The largest and most one–sided battle of the nineteenth century? Well, the first part of the statement is correct. There were more troops on the field of Königgrätz than any other battle, prior to it or after it until the battle of Mukden (20th February–10th March 1905). Even the greatest battle of the century thus far, Leipzig in 1813, also known as the Battle of Nations, in which, on the final day of the battle the troops on both sides numbered, after losses sustained during the previous days fighting, some 420,000 men engaged, still fell short of the 430,000 plus who stood on the field of Königgrätz.
As far as the one–sidedness of the conflict is concerned, and not just the battle itself, but the whole campaign, when the casualties on both sides are compared, plus the rapidity of the Austrian collapse within seven weeks, make it appear that they were on a hiding to nothing in the first place. However, their archaic tactics and much criticised inferior infantry armament should not be taken as the sole reasons for their defeat. Indeed the early stages of the campaign, had the Austrian high command been led by generals better qualified and more offensively minded, could have changed the whole course of the war.
The military and political arrangement of both Austria and Prussia leading up to the outbreak of hostilities has been dealt with in much detail not only by Professor Gordon A.Craig in his excellent account of the campaign and battle, The Battle of Königgrätz published in 1964, but also at great length in two more recent accounts of the conflict-Quintin Barry’s work, The Road to Königgrätz. Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro-Prussian War 1866 (published in 2010) and Geoffrey Wawro’s, The Austro-Prussian War. Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866 (published in 1996). Therefore I have only given a brief outline of events leading up to the main battle of the campaign, which I will endeavour to explain in some depth by using material not only from the above mentioned books and other sources, but also by utilising much new information gathered while visiting the site earlier this year. Dr Bob’s panoramas taken from over twenty locations around the site will, I feel, aid the reader immensely when trying to imagine what took place during this epic battle. A further trip to the Czech Republic is proposed for 2015 in order to visit the sites of other engagements that occurred prior to Königgrätz; thereafter it is hoped that we will be able to compile a complete account, in words and pictures, of the events that took place in Bohemia in 1866.
Click to start the virtual tour, or next page to read the article.
Prussia had emerged from the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 as the weakest of the five European powers (England, France, Austria, Russia and Prussia). She seemed far inferior to Austria both in military strength and total population. By 1859, however, the squeaking cogs of the Austrian military machine had been heard by the Prussian General Staff in Berlin. Perhaps what the small monarchy of Piedmont–albeit with massive French assistance–had recently done for a unified Italian cause might also be achieved by a German confederation under Prussian control?
To this end, Count Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, first minister of Prussia, addressed all his efforts. From the moment he came into office in 1862 until the outbreak of hostilities in 1866, Bismarck pursued a course whose main objective was securing Prussian domination over Austria and the smaller German states. His policy of aggrandizement was based largely on a strong military program, for which he was aided by the reforms to the army pushed through by Count Albrecht von Roon, Minister of War. For Bismarck, as it had been for the Prussian military theorist Karl von Clausewitz, war was no more than an extension of state policy by other means. The crushing of democratic liberalism in 1862 had left the way clear for a confrontation with Austria.
A situation now arose that gave Bismarck his chance to inaugurate a series of diplomatic manoeuvres that would nudge Austria along the road to war. For some years, the two duchies of Schleswig and Holstein had been a thorn in the side of both Austria and Prussia, with the kingdom of Denmark claiming sovereignty over both. In 1864, Austrian and Prussian troops under overall Austrian command invaded the duchies. In May of that year the Danes, after putting up a stubborn resistance, were finally defeated and their king, Christian IX, was compelled to sue for peace, thereafter an armistice was signed. By the terms of the treaty of Vienna, the Danes ceded their right over both Schleswig and Holstein, the former placed under Prussian control and the latter under Austrian. Unfortunately for Austria, the Emperor Franz Joseph now decided to change his Foreign Minister, appointing the dashing, wealthy but ditheringly vacillating former cavalry general Count Alexander von Mensdorff–Pouilly to replace the plodding but diplomatically competent Count Johann Bernhard von Rechberg who had fallen from favour in Vienna. This gave Bismarck a chance to cause more trouble for Austria within the newly acquired duchies.
Such a condominium between Austria and Prussia could never be expected to work without friction. By the summer of 1865, the two powers were on the brink of war, but Bismarck was not ready to enter a conflict at this time and a convention of sorts was arranged and a deal struck at Gastein in Austria, to paper over the cracks and allow a breathing space, during which both sides began to organize their military forces for the showdown that was bound to come.
Bismarck made full use of the lull to win over the Prussian King and his advisers. He also managed to talk round the Prussian Chief of Staff Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke, who was cool towards an all–out war with Austria, by promising him an alliance with Italy that would divert some of the Austrian forces. The Italians agreed to this alliance provided that in the event of a Prussian victory, the province of Venetia would be handed over to them, and that the war with Austria would commence within three months after April 1866. The Mexican war of 1865 had been such a disappointment to the French Emperor Napoleon III that French neutrality was won over by a shadowy assurance of some form of compensation from Bismarck when he met Napoleon at Biarritz. Bismarck also used his diplomatic skills to neutralize Russia. At last, he could set his sights on the confrontation he had so long desired and so artfully delayed.
On 1st June 1866, Bismarck’s diplomatic shenanigans had so rattled Mensdorff that he violated the Gastein Convention and endeavoured to bring in the minor German states against Prussia by claiming that any settlement of the Schleswig-Holstein question should be entrusted to the Germanic Confederation (Diet), within which Austria held control. No further reasons were needed for, if anything, an over bellicose Bismarck to claim that Austria had overstepped the mark, where after Prussia declared war.
The Opposing Forces.
The Austrian Army.
Theoretically, the Austrian army, which was made up of conscripts, had 10 corps of 83,000 men each. This mass of manpower was, however, a long time in forming from its cadres onto the battlefield. Also the Austrians had done away with the divisional system after the war of 1859, which although intended to make communication of orders more direct and functional did, in fact, cause the headquarters staff to become overworked owing to written orders having to be prepared and delivered to thirteen different formations, for corps and army troops, and for the supply columns of the entire army. Further problems arose with their Italian regiments who had to be moved away from their normal recruiting areas for fear of desertion once it was found that Italy had thrown in her lot with the Prussians. Moreover, while Prussia now had a more reliable Landwehr, thanks to the Roon reforms, Austria had no militia to provide a backup service in functional or fortress duties. Worse yet, a substitute could be hired to serve in another man’s place. Because of these problems, plus deductions for any sick, labours and security forces, Austria could only place 350,000 men in the field; of these, only 240,000 would be able to operate against Prussia, while 110,000 were needed on the Italian front. The army was divided into 10 corps, three of which, designated The South Army, were assigned to northern Italy under the command of the Emperor’s nephew, Archduke Albrecht, the son of one of the finest soldiers Austria ever produced, the Archduke Karl (Charles), who had sent the great Napoleon himself away to think again after the battle of Aspern-Essling in 1809. The remaining seven army corps, designated The North Army, were commanded by Feldzeugmeister Ludwig Ritter von Benedek, a 62 year old Hungarian who had learnt his trade under another towering presence in the annals of Austrian military history, Field–Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz. The problem was that all Benedek’s military experience, although distinguished and his bravery undisputed, was limited to campaigning in Italy. He was also out of his depth when commanding anything larger than an army corps, a fact that he was the first to acknowledge. To make matters worse Benedek had selected the 59 year old Baron Alfred Freiherr von Henikstein as his Chief of Staff back in 1864, and he was still bumping along with the North Army at the outbreak of hostilities in 1866. Henikstein was totally unfit for the task that required the rapid and intelligent transmission of strategic decisions during the pressure of a campaign, therefore Benedek, after a suggestion made by Archduke Albrecht during the course of lunch, assigned General Gideon Krismanic as “operations chief,” thus allowing Henikstein to remain with the army, albeit without any real staff –work to fuddle his mind. Wawro, Geoffery, The Austro-Prussian War. Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 57
The problem with this senior officer’s “old boy network” was that it never developed a system of testing or revaluating military dogma and hierarchical positions so that the right men were in the right jobs. Krismanic was a good example of this reliance on “considered” military ability. Looking like another short and portly blundering general who became infamous during the American Civil War, but without his cross-eyes–Benjamin Franklin Butler. Krismanic was a forty nine year old Croat career soldier. His reputation as an expert on the Bohemian topographical theatre of war, and his position as professor of strategy at the Kriegschule in Vienna made him “appear” the ideal choice. In fact Krismanic epitomised how far the Austrian military had their heads firmly buried in the eighteenth century concept of warfare. His operational theory was therefore structured around the outdated models handed down by such latter day Austrian commanders as Lacy and Dunne, both of whom had used similar tactics over one hundred years earlier to try and contain the Prussians under their soldiering monarch Frederick the Great. Wawro, Geoffrey. The Austro – Prussian War. Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 57 Thus, Krismanic’s plan was based on a defensive position that was centred on the fortified town of Olmutz in Moravia and was intended to protect Vienna. Unfortunately for Austria, the decision to go straight onto the defensive was tantamount to throwing away any initiative they had gained by their advanced mobilisation. Even so, the position of the Austrian corps around Olmutz still could have proved favourable under stronger leadership. But Benedek showed he had no idea how to use his central position with good interior lines, unlike a certain Corsican born general some 60 years before who had used such situations so effectively.
The Austrian infantry had undergone a change in its tactical regulations in 1862, erroneously now basing them on what the French had achieved during the Italian campaign of 1859. This called for an Austrian brigade of two regiments, each of three battalions, plus a Jäger battalion, to manoeuvre on the battlefield in dense battalion columns of some 1,000 men each formed in three 300 plus man columns one behind the other in attack, while in defence the rear two columns would move forward on either side of the front column. Reliance was placed on the mass attack with the bayonet. These tactics were to not only meant to unnerve the enemy by the sight of an advancing human wall of sharpened steel, but also, and this was more important, keep the young soldiers from the many diverse nationalities within its far flung empire compacted and secure within a moving box, hopefully giving them more confidence by their very masses.To compound the issue still further, the choice of corps commanders was also a case of upper class nepotism. The 1st Corps was given to the self opinionated and incompetent General Eduard Clam–Gallas, a bloodhound eyed aristocrat of whom it was said, “He dines better than he fights.” The 2nd Corps went to a mediocre general, Count Karl Thun–Hohenstadt, who made few mistakes but liked to have his back against a wall when trouble was brewing. Commanding the 3rd and 8th Corps were the Archdukes Ernst Karl Felix and Leopold Salvator, both about as competent as an average line colonel; the 4th Corps came under yet another toy soldier, who was all show and no go, General Tassilo Festetics; 6th Corps went to Lieutenant Field–Marshal Wilhelm Freiherr Ramming von Riedkirchen, who had the looks and bearing of strong leadership, unfortunately during the campaign he was to lose the thread of events and failed to keep his subordinate brigade commanders under tight control particularly during the opening action at Nachod (27th June), which he was to blame on his going on campaign with severe neuralgic facial pains. Craig, Gordon A. The Battle of Königgrätz, page 74 The 10th Corps was led by one of the only real Austrian commanders with true military ability, Lieutenant Field–Marshal Ludwig von Gablenz, a good all round tactician and troop leader. Unfortunately Gablenz was better at soldiering than he was at finance, and after going spectacularly broke he committed suicide in Switzerland in 1874. The Austrian cavalry commanders of the three heavy and two light divisions with the North Army were no better or worse than their Prussian counterparts. The best among them being Major–General Baron Leopold Freiherr von Edelsheim–Gyulai, commanding the 1st Light Cavalry Division. As for its artillery, Austria was one of the best equipped, trained and served in Europe. Its Director of Artillery with the North Army was the carful and intelligent Archduke Wilhelm, who was to show a considerable talent in the positioning and handling of this most effective arm of the service on the field of Könnigrätz. It’s main punch consisted of four and eight pounder muzzle loading rifled bronze cannon with a range of around 4,000 meters formed in batteries of six guns each and complemented by a section of Raketengeschütz, or rocket batteries, which never seem to be considered by historians although they could cause considerable damage to enemy morale owing to their erratic behaviour when fired. However, this could also cause as much trouble among the ranks of friendly troops owing to their habit of going astray of their intended target.
The bayonet was thought by many to be the psychological decision maker on the battlefield, in fact it was, and always had been, just that–more in the mind than in effect. What could have made a difference was the Austrian infantry weapon–the Lorenz rifled musket. Although it was the Prussian needle gun that has come to be regarded as the main factor that contributed to Prussia’s battlefield superiority during the campaign, the greater range, up to 900 meters, and reliability of the Lorenz could, if target practice and training had been properly organised and frequently taught, have made a dramatic difference.
Lieutenant Joseph Lorenz began production of the muzzle loading rifle in 1854. In many ways it was just a copy of the English Enfield rifled musket, even down to the stock and barrel bore (.54 calibre). The production varied in quality depending upon where it was produced, but nevertheless it was a satisfactory weapon and one that the soldiers felt confident in using. However, as stated above, the Austrian infantry tactics did not give full scope for its effective use, particularly on the defensive. By manoeuvring in dense columns a battalion could only deliver a volley from its first two ranks, possibly no more than 200 men, and these would then have to fall back through the troops behind to reload and allow the next two ranks to step forward and attempt to deliver their fire, which would be far less effective owing to their view of the enemy now being obscured by the smoke accumulated after the first two ranks had discharged their weapons. Instead of massing their men into targets that the Prussians could decimate within a few minutes with the rapid fire of the needle gun, the Austrian high command should have made greater use of the terrain. At Königgrätz, for example, many of the Austrian artillery batteries were well dug in and protected by chest high infantry trenches. If similar trenches had been arranged in tiers, as with the artillery positions, rising up from the valley of the Bistritz River to the commanding high ground along the whole length of the Austrian and Saxon position then–with particular attention being paid to their right flank–together with the barrage put down by their artillery, the devastating fire which could have been maintained by the infantry being in linear formation and having supports close enough at hand to be able to reload and pass forward muskets, would have blown away every attempt that the Prussians made to get to grips with their foes. It was quite obvious that the Austrians had made no attempt to study the tactics evolved by both sides during the recent American Civil War, where entrenchments had became the dominant factor. Only the Jäger battalions came close to being proficient with the Lorenz rifle, but even their greater training in the skilful art of light infantry tactics was squandered by using them, in the main, in the same way as the line infantry, which in itself negated any real effect of the Lorenz’s longer range. Even the curved trajectory of the Lorenz could have been successfully countered by troops entrenched and taught to use their rifle sights correctly, altering them to suit the distance of the advancing enemy. See Appendix for details of altering the sights on the Lorenz Rifle.
The Austrian cavalry was recognised as one of the best trained and disciplined in Europe. Comprising of cuirassiers (heavy) and dragoons, hussars and lancers (light), formed into regiments of five squadrons each for the heavy and six squadrons each for the light, of which one squadron of each remained behind at its depot for recruiting purposes. The sight of a cavalry division in all its splendour moving into action must have been a magnificent spectacle, however the outdated method of using it as a missile weapon of flesh and blood soon reduced its glittering ranks into mounds of riddled carcasses of men and horses when set against the rapid fire of the Prussian rifle.
The Saxon Army.
Born in 1828 Frederick Augustus Albert, crown prince and eldest son of King John of Saxony, proved himself a lightweight commander of the Saxon forces allied to the Austrians in 1866. His main problem was his lack of being able to make quick and firm decisions during the heat of battle.The Saxons had a long and chequered history of wars and conflicts. Even after the Frankish king, Charlemagne, had finally subdued them and made them accept Christianity in 804 they were still considered one of the most warlike of all the tribes of Germany. During the Thirty Years War (1618–1648) Saxony had allied themselves with the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus and although the troops fought well they were, in general, poorly led and lacked real cohesion as a fighting force. The same factor also caused their lamentable performance during the Great Northern War (1700–1721). At the battle of Fraustadt (2nd February 1706) their commander, Matthais Schulenburg, allowed himself to become the victim of a double envelopment, totally destroying his army. Again, during the wars of Frederick the Great, the Saxon army proved the worth of its rank and file but failed abysmally in the choice of commanders. During the Napoleonic Wars Saxony was dealt a crushing blow, together with her Prussian allies on the field of Jena (14th October 1806). Thereafter she became a stalwart and well disciplined part of Napoleons military machine only changing sides when she realised she had backed the wrong horse during the battle of Leipzig in 1813.
Although only numbering 24,000 men, the Saxon contingent’s input was far greater than its size. Unlike the Austrians, the Saxons used linear tactics, allowing more fire power to be delivered by the Lorenz rifled musket, which was used together with the M.1858 Podewils–Gewehr rifled musket. Infantry battalions were independent and not grouped into regiments. The line numbered 1–16, the rifle battalions (Light Infantry), 1-4. These were formed into four brigades that, in turn, made up two divisions of two brigades each.
Saxon cavalry, although still a powerful force of just over 2000 men formed into a division, was not used to best effect during the campaign of 1866. Its components had all been designated Ritter, the word just meaning a mounted horseman. The Guard Ritter regiment was considered as heavy cavalry.The Saxon artillery used a mixture of Krupp breech loading rifled cannon and smooth bore 12 pound bronze pieces, the latter constructed along the lines of the American Civil War twelve pound “Napoleons.”
The Prussian Army.
In order to overcome these problems it was necessary for the Landwehr to be separated from the regular army, its discipline improved, and much of its role relegated to fortress duty and controlling the rear area. To this end Prince William of Prussia, who became regent in 1858, his brother King Frederick William IV having suffered a stroke had asked the government to draw up a list of changes that could be considered for the improvement of the army. The result, ‘… was based on an earlier study by Lieutenant–Colonel von Clausewitz,’ Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640 – 1945, page 139. showed that it was necessary to alter the system of conscription that had not kept pace with the population growth, which had increased from 10 to 18 million, but the recruits that were enlisted into the army had remained at the original number of 40,000 per annum. What this meant was that many fit and able young men were not being called to the colours, while older men still in service but with commitments and families went into the Landwehr and were still considered as first line soldiers. To overcome this archaic system the government proposed a term of service set at two years rather than three and that the annual intake of conscripts be increased. Ibid. page 139.The shattering of the illusion of Prussian military greatness by Napoleon in 1806 had caused a period of radical reform after which her army became a more streamlined and dependable fighting force. However, after the defeat of the French emperor at Waterloo in 1815, much of the reformers work was soon abandoned with only conscription remaining. This entailed all fit 20 –year–old males becoming liable for three years service in the regular army followed by two years in the reserve. After this they served in the Landwehr until the age of 40. This latter organisation proved itself completely useless when it was called out to face the political upheavals of 1831and 1848, and it was clear that something had to be done as the Prussian army was in no fit state to become a weapon of policy.
The Prussian Corps became the main link in the chain of command. Each corps was made up of two infantry divisions, each of two brigades, which in turn contained two regiments of three battalions; a battalion at full mobilisation being around 1,000 officers and men. All formations were regionally based and established in peace time and also when placed on a war footing. With typical Prussian precision the 1st Army Corps contained the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions, with their respective brigades being numbered similarly. Historical and traditional regimental titles were still used although their numbering still followed the mathematical pattern. The Corps was self contained when on campaign, with its own engineer detachment, supply train, medical unit, a cavalry regiment, a Jäger battalion, and several batteries of artillery. McElwee, William. The Art of War Waterloo to Mons, page, 65.Prussia was fortunate at the beginning of the 1860’s to have at hand a monarch with soldierly credentials–King William I, who ascended to the throne upon the demise of his brother in January 1861, and a triumvirate of military reformer, military commander, and political colossus. The reforms were prepared by the Minister of War, Lieutenant–General Albrecht Theodor Emil von Roon, a Pomeranian of Flemish origin. The army had found a Chief of Staff who would become one of the greatest military minds in history General Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke, and Prussia’s new Minister President Otto–Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, who would push through Roon’s reforms with his usual lack of consideration for any opinions other than his own. The result was a field army of 342,000 men organised into eight territorial corps and a Guard Corps based in Berlin.
There is no doubt that the faster loading and firing of the needle gun was a contributing factor during the campaign but, like the bayonet, it was as much the psychological effect of this rapid fire, as well as the actual physical damage, that played a decisive role in the war. The weapon itself had serious flaws. The needle was prone to bending and breaking owing to its thinness and a spare was carried by all infantry. Also the bolt breech loading mechanism failed to close properly after five or six rounds had been fired, causing gasses to escape along with burning particles of powder which frequently burnt the eyes and faces of troops. So bad did this defect become that, despite attempts by officers to get their men to fire by sighting along the barrel, many soldiers took to firing the rifle at waist level, well tucked into their hip. Ibid. page, 121. The range was also poor in comparison to the Austrian Lorenz rifled musket and it was the steadfastness and discipline of the Prussian soldier, coupled with the Austrians supplying targets that were impossible to miss, more so than their armament, that proved the decisive factor at Könnigrätz.The Prussian infantry weapon was the breech loading rifle Zündnadelgewehr or Needle Gun. Invented by Nikolaus von Dreyse in 1835 it took its name from the long needle like striker which, when released by the trigger would pierce explosive material igniting a cap at the base of the bullet. The rifle gained its not inconsiderable reputation solely from its use and success in the campaign of 1866, which gave it more prominence than it deserved. If anything, it was the Austrian tactics that allowed the needle–gun to be considered one of the main reasons behind Prussia’s victory.
Prussia’s artillery suffered from the debilitating effect of its former Inspector–General of Artillery, General von Hahn, who stubbornly refused to switch over to rifled cannon, preferring the bronze smoothbore 12–pounder of questionable reliability and limited range, its maximum being only 1,500 meters, or less than half that of the Austrian rifled guns. Also these now obsolete pieces were only capable of firing canister and solid shot, together with a crude type of shell that exploded on impact; unlike the Austrians they did not have fuse regulated air-detonating shrapnel. Craig, Gordon A. The Battle of Königgrätz, page 32.Prussian infantry tactics were based on battalions moving on the offensive in parallel company columns, the forward companies spreading out by platoons and thickening the skirmishing line of the advanced guard. When on the defensive this system of open order was also used, being particularly effective when used against massed enemy columns.
Hahn’s successor to the post of Inspector–General in 1864 was Lieutenant–General Gustav Eduard von Hindersin, who bought a more progressive and liberal approach to the job of rearming the Prussian artillery. Alfred Krupp, who was to become the towering monarch of the Ruhr steel industry, had, in 1843, begun experimenting with casting steel gun barrels at his factory in Essen. Ibid, page 33.Field tests proved that they would be far superior to the old bronze muzzle loaders, but the Prussian Ordnance Department showed little interest, despite Krupp obtaining markets in Egypt and Russia. In 1859 the future king, Prince William, placed an order for 300 cast steel rifled barrels; however despite Krupp’s development of a breech –loading system to compliment his steel barrels little urgency was shown and Prussia entered the campaign of 1866 with a third of their guns smoothbore 12 pounders. A further problem that seemed to confirm the doubts of Krupp’s critics was that although two thirds of the armies field batteries were now equipped with rifled breech–loading 4 and 6–pounders, which included 160 cast steel guns, these latter had problems with an imperfect breech mechanism, causing five to explode during the campaign, not helping the morale of other gun crews serving this type of gun. Ibid, page 33.
Craig sums up Prussian artillery doctrine at this time:
…The loss of a gun to the enemy was regarded as a cardinal crime and, in order to prevent this during the advance of the army, it was held that the artillery was carried in the rear. Prince Hohenlohe’s fear that artillery was beginning to be regarded as a kind of ballast was not exaggerated, and the performance of the Prussian guns in the 1866 suffered as a result. Ibid, page 33.
Prussian cavalry, although still the most glittering and glamorous arm of the service, had become neglected. Its days of delivering a crushing blow were long gone, despite no one grasping the fact that to hurl horses and men against rapid rifle and artillery fire was like pushing meat through a grinder. The real problem was that none of the continental cavalry generals knew how to adjust to this increase in firepower, still basing their tactics on the glory days of the Napoleonic Wars. Only a handful had bothered to study the use of mounted infantry and the daring raids made by cavalry generals on both sides during the American Civil War. It was also anathema for European cavalry commanders to even think of using their elegantly uniformed troopers and well groomed horses for such mundane work as dismounted action. Unfortunately the Prussians failed to use their cavalry to good effect during the 1866 campaign, an error which they soon corrected, albeit still without training their men to fight dismounted, when they fought the French four years later and used them as a moving screen of horsemen between their own armies and the French, continually sending back information on the enemy movements. Lawford, James (Editor), The Cavalry, page 169.
In comparison with Austria’s lack lustre bunch in the General Staff, their counterparts in the Prussian army had undergone a transformation under the guiding hand of Helmuth von Moltke who had turned it into, ‘…a unique instrument combining flexibility and initiative at the local level with conformity to common operational doctrine and to the intentions of the high command.’ Rothenberg, Gunther E, Moltke, Schlieffen, and the Doctrine of Stategic Envelopment, in Makers of Modern Strategy, page 301.
In 1866 Prussia’s railway system was highly developed, allowing the mobilization and concentration of troops to become an important strategic factor that Moltke made a crucial part of his planning when war was declared, ‘…In fact, the timetable of mobilization and assemblage, together with the first marching orders, formed in future the very core of strategic plans drawn up by military staffs in expectation of war.’ Holborn. H, The Prusso – German School: Moltke and the Rise of the General Staff, in Makers of Modern Strategy, page 287.After attaining the post of Chief of the General Staff in 1857, Moltke focused all his attention on preparing for future military operations using his own technique together with the unique abilities of the students of the Kriegsakademie, set up by Clausewitz, which he used to evaluate every possible eventuality that could occur in the event of war. By using these well honed assets Moltke was able to devise practical solutions to the problems of moving large masses of troops and supplies. He also took a personal interest in training twelve selected members of the institution each year in military staff rides and Kriegspiel. These well tutored men would then be posted among the various staffs of each army corps ‘…. where they disseminated Moltke’s ideas so that a common doctrine could be achieved thought the army.’ Mc Elwee. William, The Art of War Waterloo to Mons, page 67.Even Moltke’s meticulous planning occasionally went wrong, especially when some of his senior corps commanders took it upon themselves to “do their own thing.” Another problem came from the very fact that, owing to most of his military career being taken up by academic staff work, many Prussian field commanders just did not know much about him, causing the King’s Adjutant–General, Lieutenant–General Leopold Herman von Boyen to remark to a friend, ‘The King in command, at the age of seventy, with the decrepit Moltke at his side! What will become of it all?’ Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 39.There was also one high ranking general who upon receiving an order from the Chief of Staff on the field of Königgrätz, asked the question, “This is all very well, but who is General Moltke?” Holborn. H, The Prusso – German School: Moltke and the Rise of the German Staff, in Makers of Modern Stratagy, page 286. Despite these doubts and uncertainties, Moltke worked tirelessly on the military problems that confronted Prussia, surrounded as she was by potential enemies. To this end the rapid mobilization of the army was of paramount importance and here Prussia’s railway offered the most viable solution.
At the outbreak of hostilities Prussia’s army benefited from having one of the best collections of corps and division commanders in Europe. Even the few that did not quite come up to expectations were, nevertheless, adequately supported by subordinate officers of a high calibre, able on more than one occasion during the campaign to either correct their commander’s mistakes, or make suggestions that were more in keeping with the overall strategic objectives.
Crown Prince Fredrick William.
The main Prussian generals who fought in Bohemia were as follows:-
The 2nd Corps, 3rd Corps, and 4th Corps, together with the Cavalry Corps under Prince Fredrich Albrecht, another nephew of the King and a sound leader of cavalry, made up the compliment of the First Army although neither the 3rd or 4th Corps had a commanding general, the divisions were meant to operate independently under-orders coming directly from First Army headquarters. The 2nd Corps was commanded by Lieutenant-General von Schmidt, with divisional general of the 3rd Division Lieutenant General von Werder and 4th Division Lieutenant–General von Herwarth; both dependable leaders. 3rd Corps division commanders were (5th Division) Wilhelm von Tümpling and (6th Division) Albrecht von Manstein, aged 57, and 61 years of age respectively; their reliability and conduct proven during the Danish war. The two divisional leaders of the 4th Corps were, Lieutenant–General Eduard von Fransecky (7th Division) aged fifty nine, and Lieutenant–General Heinrich von Horn (8th Division), aged 66; both first rate field commanders. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 171 – 172.First Army (93,000 men) was commanded by Prince Frederick Charles, the King’s nephew. Although he considered himself to be a soldier first and foremost, he was not always a good field commander, at times allowing his rather gung–ho attitude to override common sense. His Chief of Staff was the fifty seven year old General Konstantin von Voigts–Rhetz, good at his job but who was not on the best of terms with Moltke against whom he harboured a lasting professional jealousy.  Barry. Quintin, The Road to Könnigrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 171.
The Second Army (115,000 men) was placed under the command of Crown Prince Frederick William, at 35 years of age a careful and dutiful military leader but one lacking in experience. His Chief of Staff was the 56 year old Major General Karl von Blumenthal, an excellent soldier with a clear understanding of staff work. Before the outbreak of hostilities, in a conversation with fellow officers over lunch, Blumenthal had been asked what his opinion was of the Austrian soldiers, particularly their Jäger battalions fighting in wooded terrain. ‘In wooded terrain,’ Blumental replied, ‘we will be better than they are because our officers are better trained than the Austrian ones.’ Then he was asked about how they compared when fighting on the plains, to which he answered, as he took a sip of wine, ‘Then I just feel sorry for them, because there we will shoot the poor fellows dead.’ Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 30.His prophecy proved well founded, although many of the Austrian regimental and battalion commanders fought and died as courageously as their men, the use of outdated tactics brought their sacrifice into question.
The Second Army was made up of V Corps, commanded by the old warrior of the War of Liberation, General Karl von Steinmetz, a brave but impetuous 70 year old, given to taking matters into his own hands without consulting his superiors, and VI Corps, commanded by another septuagenarian, General Louis von Mutius, a slow and methodical plodder who got on with his job. The V Corps two divisions were commanded by Major General Julius von Löwenfeld (9th Division) and Major–General Hugo von Kirchbach (10th Division), two able and competent soldiers. VI Corps had the 11th Division of Lieutenant–General Alexander von Zastow, another reliable troop leader, and 12th Division under Lieutenant–General Conrad von Prondzinsky, of whom, unfortunately, not much is known. Major–General Hartmann was commander of the Second Army’s reserve cavalry.
The so called, Army of the Elbe (46,000 men), consisted of only three infantry divisions, commanded by the seventy year old and well respected but, as it turned out, over cautious General Karl Herwarth von Bittenfeld. Chief of Staff was the 50 year old steady and capable Colonel Karl von Schlotheim. His three divisional generals were Lieutenant–General Count Münster–Meinhövel (14th Division) a good fighting soldier; Lieutenant General Philipp von Canstein (15th Division), a well respected and diligent leader, and Lieutenant–General Franz von Etzel (16th Division), sound in quick decision making. Two cavalry brigades commanded by Major–Generals Count von der Goltz and von Kotze were attached to the army.
Besides the formations mentioned above there were three corps whose dispositions were subject to the strategic situation as the campaign unfolded. The I Corps came under the command of the 63 year old General Adolf von Bonin, one of Prussia’s less capable senior officers who would prove to be both an unimaginative and timid troop commander; his two divisional generals were Lieutenant–General Georg von Grossman (1st Division) and (2nd Division) Lieutenant–General Karl von Clausewitz –the 59 year old nephew of the better known Carl von Clausewitz–who went all through the war only to die of cholera on the 31st July 1866. The II Corps, provisionally assigned to the First Army, came under the lumbering but efficient Lieutenant–General Stefan von Schmidt aged 67. His two divisional commanders were Lieutenant–General August von Werder (3rd Division) and the commander of the Army of the Elbe’s brother, Lieutenant–General Friedrich Herwarth von Bittenfeldt (4th Division). Command of the Guard Corps, the elite of the whole bunch, was given to the pompous and not very talented, Prince August of Württemberg, consisting of the 1st Guard Division under the “up and at them” Lieutenant–General Hiller von Gärtringen, aged 59 but with all the pluck and daring of a 20 year old, and 2nd Guard Division commanded by Lieutenant–General Heinrich von Plonski. Quintin. Barry, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro- Prussian War 1866, page 172 -173.
Considering that in the event of war the Austrian army would adopt the offensive, Moltke had already begun to ponder his response as far back as 1860, writing a memorandum on the subject which, in his view, would entail Austria seeking to destroy Prussia as a power in Europe by a direct drive on Berlin. Against this eventuality he intended to hold back a covering force in Silesia of not more than one army corps, while the main body of the Prussian army was deployed further west. Moltke was of the opinion that if the Austrians made a thrust against Berlin this could be best dealt with, not by meeting the threat frontally, but by operating against their flanks from the Elbe bridgeheads of Torgau and Wittenberg, thus coming down to threaten the Austrian lines of communication, which, in turn, could force them to move off their northward line of march towards Silesia. To this end he proposed that strong forces should be concentrated as soon as war was declared around the Saxon capitol Dresden, so that they could block Elbe River gap which ran through the Erzgebirge Mountains, causing the Austrians to suffer severe losses as they attempted to get through the Lusatian passes. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 42.
The Prussian King’s doubts about a conflict with Austria caused the mobilization of his forces to be delayed; only Bismarck’s goading finally forced him to declare war, which at last enabled the army to take the offensive. Here Moltke’s planning became crucial, as the Austrians could operate either from Moravia or Bohemia thrusting against Central or Upper Silesia; they could also march directly into Saxony to threaten Berlin. Thus, to make up for the delay caused by his vacillating monarch, on the 5th June, 1866, Moltke put his plans into action, using Prussia’s railway network to transport the various corps and ancillary detachments of her forces to form a great half circle of some 440 kilometres from Halle and Torgau to Görlitz and Landeshut (see map); something that the Austrian army was unable to equal owing to their having only a single line track leading into Moravia. However, Moltke’s plan assumed that the Austrian army would be far to the south, whereas, in fact, it was, following Krismanic’s instructions, ensconced snugly in Moravia. Holborn. H, The Prusso – German School: Moltke and the Rise of the General Staff, in Makers of Modern Strategy, page 297.
On the 10th June Moltke received an urgent message from the Chief of Staff of the Second Army, informing him that the Austrian’s were collecting their forces together around Olmütz, which looked as if they intended to strike towards the Silesian capitol of Breslau. To meet this eventuality Moltke ordered Second Army to move eastward to the line of the River Neisse; the Guard Corps was also ordered to take train for Brieg, east of Breslau, where it would act as Second Army’s reserve. In conjunction with these moves the First Army would concentrate around Görlitz. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 50.
At first glance it would appear that Moltke had miscalculated and misjudged the possible turn of events. Gordon A. Craig tells us differently:
These movements involved a marked departure from the kind of disposition outlined in Moltke’s early writings about an Austrian war, and they were awkward in their results. The shift of I Corps and the Guard to Silesia made the Second Army as big as the First, whereas Moltke’s memoranda of 1860, 1862 and 1865–66 had all favoured an unequal division with stronger forces behind the Lusatian Mountains. In addition, the leftward movement had not only appreciably tightened the Prussian line; the separate corps were still strung out; the gap between First and Second Armies was still wide enough to seem dangerous; and the distance between First Army and the so–called Elbe Army… [now on the boarders of Saxony (my parenthesis)] …was even greater. This disturbed many Prussian officers, including some of Moltke’s own staff; but it was the inevitable result of two things: Moltke’s lively respect for Benedek’s combative nature, which had led him to expect an Austrian advance into Bohemia [ basing his idea of Benedek’s capabilities on his performance during the War of 1859 in Italy–my parenthesis] and, when this did not materialize, seemed to lend plausibility to Blumenthal’s [Chief of Staff Second Army] fears; and the limitations placed on him, as long as he was forbidden to enter enemy territory, by geography.
In point of fact, he need not have been concerned over the imminence of an Austrian thrust. The advantage that the Austrians had gained by starting their mobilization early were offset by the inefficiency with which they carried it out and by the inadequacy of their railway net….The delays caused by this were compounded by the caution of Benedek’s staff and his willingness to tolerate it. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 50 -51.
As well as having to deal with any offensive moves that might be taken by the Austrians, Moltke also had to prepare for any aggression made by the German Confederation (Hanover, Bavaria, Saxony, Württemberg, Barden, Hesse-Cassel and Hesse-Darmstadt) who, having thrown in their lot with Austria had a combined strength numbering, theoretically, 152,000 men, and therefore could pose a serious threat as their geographical proximity to Berlin made a strike at the Prussian capitol a very strong possibility. However, the numbers conjured up on paper and the real strength of each of the various contingents of the federal force was like the proverbial chalk and cheese.
Originally formed in 1815, the German Confederation signed an agreement to come together and form a federal army in the event of Germany being threatened. None of the states involved had kept their respective armies up to strength, and none had bothered to form a constructive plan of action or combine in creating a good General Staff. Mobilizing this mass of manpower also proved to be a logistic nightmare as each state had a separate system of recruitment as well as different timetables for their limited railway network, ‘Indeed in the summer of 1865, the Austrian staff calculated that in the event of an Austro–Prussian war, Austria’s most likely allies (as given above), would have to begin mobilizing with Austria and long before Prussia if they were to have any chance of actually taking the field in time to affect the outcome of operation.’ Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 73.
With Moltke’s campaign plans based on swift offensive action, and knowing full well the snail –like pace of federal mobilization, the Prussian Chief of Staff had allotted only one army corps, together with Landwehr and ancillary support to meet any possible movements on their part. The forces allocated to take out the north German contingents, designated The Army of the West, before advancing to deal with federal elements in the south were commanded by General Eduard Vogel von Falckenstein, one of Prussia’s more dubious generals, who had lost much of his limited credibility during the Danish War of 1864, and now threw away what little was left by his sloth–like actions in not conforming more swiftly to Moltke’s directives, and allowing the Hanoverian army to escape in a bid to link up with the Bavarian’s. Such was Falckenstein’s tardiness that instead of organising a rapid pursuit he ensconced himself in the Hanoverian capital content that he had succeeded in attaining his goal without the shedding of any blood. Ibid, page 78.
Moltke was not impressed to say the least, wiring Falckenstein over and over to keep up the momentum and the pressure and informing him that if the Hanoverian and Bavarian armies were allowed to unite then Army of the West would be outnumbered. Still his wealthy and well connected subordinate chose to sit tight. On the 22nd June, after receiving no information in regard to the compliance to his orders Moltke lost it, thumping his desk, causing inkwells to spill and maps and papers to cascade to the floor, he telegraphed Falckenstein a fourth time demanding that he attack the Hanoverian army before contact with the Bavarians was made, receiving the reply that no movement could be made until the Hanoverian railway track (having been torn up by their retreating army) had been repaired. Only a direct order from King William himself, sent out on the 23rd June, got the lethargic general to move. Finally on the 27th June the Hanoverian army of 19,000 men were attacked in their well prepared position near the city of Langensalza in Thuringia by a scratch Prussian brigade of 9,000 troops containing Landwehr units who, attacking prematurely, suffered a resounding defeat. However, on the following day the main bulk of the Prussian army (soon after to be renamed The Army of the Main) arrived causing the Hanoverians to retreat, and on the 29th June the blind king of Hanover, George I, surrendered at Nordhausen. The Prussians could now be sure of securing their lines of communication running from Berlin through Saxony and into Bohemia. Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 80 – 81.
While Falckenstein procrastinated, on 16th June, Herwarth’s Army of the Elbe had crossed the border into Saxony meeting no opposition, the Saxon army having evacuated Dresden and retired to the fortified heights of Pirna. The First Army also crossed into Saxon territory on the same day, the 8th Division pushing on and reaching Bautzen on the 17th June, again meeting no resistance. By this time the Saxon army had made good its escape to the Austrian frontier tearing up train lines and attempting, unsuccessfully, to blow up bridges. The rapid departure of the Saxon forces was, at first, perplexing to Moltke, still issuing orders from his office in Berlin, he was concerned in case they were about to join forces with the Bavarians in Franconia. This would cause the Army of the Elbe to be drawn away from his intended movement of the combined Prussian armies against the Austrians in Bohemia. Upon the situation being clarified Moltke was able to issue the following dispatches to the 1st and 2nd Armies on 22nd June stating, “His Majesty commands that both armies shall advance into Bohemia and endeavour to concentrate in the direction of Gitschin.” To make things clear a further telegram was sent informing the two army commanders that the junction point given should not be considered as “unalterably fixed,” but that all depended on developments. Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia. 1866 page 29 With this being said it was still nevertheless hoped that the Austrian North Army had concentrated in Northern Bohemia. In his telegram to Prince Frederick Charles he added the following advice:
As the weaker Second Army has the more difficult task of issuing from the mountains, it is the more incumbent on the First Army, as soon as ever its junction with the forces of General von Herwarth [Army of the Elbe] has been affected, to shorten the crisis by its swift advance. Quintin. Barry, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 227 -228.
Of course this was the whole essence of Moltke’s theory of war. No longer copying the slave–like dictates of the Napoleonic system of a single line of advance, but by using converging movements of armies from widely separated bases. That the dangers were great there can be no doubt, but Moltke had taken every precaution to reduce these by perfect timing and co-operation in conjunction with keeping up the pressure with the stronger force so that the enemy could not manoeuvre to overwhelm the weaker ones. The latter, in particular The Army of the Elbe, once it had made sure that Saxony was secured, would penetrate into western Bohemia through the pass at Rumburg, heading for the River Iser and the town of Münchengrätz. In the central sector, and in conjunction with this, the First Army would pass through the Lustatian Mountains at Zittau and Friedland, thereafter moving forward to establish a line on the Iser at Turnau and Podol. Once this river barrier was secure it was to move towards Gitschin. The Second Army was forced to move much further to the east, heading for the pass at Landeshut through the Riesengebirge Mountains (the only one practicable for 40 miles east of Friedland), then again onward through the defiles of Braunau and Reinerz down into the valleys of the Aupa River and the upper Elbe. Once this was achieved contact with the First Army would be established. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 59.
Away in Olmütz, Benedek had received reports concerning the strength of the various Prussian forces ranged against him and concluded that unless he could join up with the Saxon and Bavarian contingents, he would be in danger of being outnumbered. Suddenly shaking off the torpor that had been affecting him ever since he took over command, on 18th June he immediately gave orders for the North Army to set out for Josephstadt on the upper Elbe. As these instructions were being implemented, news arrived at Benedek’s headquarters that the Bavarians had decided not to adopt an aggressive stance, but now considered that their best plan was to just sit tight and defend the Main River line. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 55. Nothing daunted, Benedek then modified his arrangements for the concentration of the army near Josephstadt. Now the main body (X, VI, IV and III Corps) would assemble in a semi–circle Horitz–Miletin–Schurz–Josephstadt, with the VIII Corps in reserve. The frontier passes in the north and north–east were to be covered by cavalry with the II Corps in support. To the west the Saxon contingent, instead of joining forces with the main Austrian army, would link up with Clam–Gallas’s I Corps along the left bank of the Iser River, where they were to become, in fact, no more than a corps of observation. Command of both these units was given to the Crown Prince of Saxony, who was instructed to fall back eastward if the enemy advanced in superior strength. Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia. 1866, page 31. Lieutenant–Colonel Neill Malcolm gives the following detailed account of the objectives of the rival armies at this stage of the campaign:
The choice of Josefstadt [sic] and Gitschin as places of concentration of the Austrian and Prussian armies respectively calls for some comment. In the first place, it is important to note that von Benedek’s orders for the march of his troops into Bohemia is prefaced by the presumption that the bulk of the hostile force was standing between Görlitz and Landshut, that is to say, not more than five or six days’ march from the Austrian objective. At the earliest, the leading Austrian troops were not expected to reach Josefstadt [sic] until the 25th[June] , and the entire force, which was compelled to move in deep columns by three roads only, could not concentrate until the 29th. It is evident, therefore, that had the Prussian army really been in the position for which von Benedek gave it credit, the march from Olmütz to Josefstadt [sic] must be extremely dangerous. Even as it was the plan had to be modified after the first encounter, and that it did not prove immediately disastrous was due to the fact that the Prussians were still widely dispersed and in no position to strike. This was a piece of good fortune for which von Benedek can in no way claim credit. Two courses appear to have been open to him. Either he must attempt to reach Josefstadt [sic] before his movements could be interfered with by the enemy, or he must adopt a less ambitious plan and unite his forces at some point further south. Without doubt his true object was to prevent the junction of the Prussian armies and beat them separately, and for this purpose, always provided that he was careful to secure for himself a suitable zone of manoeuvre, he would be better placed the further north he could establish himself. Intrinsically, Josefstadt [sic] was preferable as a base of operations to Könnigrätz or Pardubitz, but everything depended upon whether it could be reached in safety. Properly handled, the Saxons and the 1st Corps should have been able to delay Prince Frederick Charles [First Army] for some days, and the next care of the Austrian commander should have been to block the passes leading from Silesia through the Riesen Gebrige [sic] into Bohemia. If the proposed operation was to be carried out time was everything…
While the Austrian army was moving north–eastward from Olmütz, the two wings of the Prussian forces were being directed upon Gitschin some fifteen miles to the westward of the enemy’s objective [Josephstadt]. Here was a clear instance of Moltke’s preference, in certain circumstances, for concentration towards the centre instead of along the circumference of a given circle. As an alternative course it was still open to him to bring the 2nd Army into touch with the 1st by a flank march behind the Riesen Gebirge [sic]. This movement must, however, have taken some days–ten or twelve at least, if we accept General Bonnal’s estimate General Henri Bonnal, 1844 – 1917. He was a French soldier who wrote, Sadowa, a critical account of the war of 1866.-and would have given the Austrians the very thing they wanted, that is to say time. “Moltke’s solution of the 19th June,” says General Bonnal, “however rash in appearance, was in reality wise. Extraordinary circumstances call for extreme measures, or if we prefer to put it so, if one is compelled to choose between two evils one chooses the lesser….
…With regard to the minor point of the selection of Gitschin as the goal of the converging movement of the Prussian armies… The 2nd Army had undoubtedly the more difficult task to carry out, and its movements were likely to be slow. Moreover, its chance of success depended, or perhaps it would be better to say should have depended, upon the amount of pressure brought to bear by the 1st Army.” Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia. 1866, page 35 – 37.
The problem with Benedek’s plan of operations was that his six army corps and four cavalry divisions heading for Josephstadt, each with their respective compliment of supply trains, became stalled in frequent snare ups, the heavy rain of early June having washed out one of their main march routes. Also the troops lacked warm food, owing to the supply wagons having become stalled or tangled up on the march. Not having the wherewithal to cook a warm meal the troops began to suffer and their morale declined as a consequence. As Prince Emerich Taxis, commander of the 2nd Light Cavalry Division reported, ‘…already arrested a number of men from General Rothkirch’s brigade for throwing away their rifles and backpacks.’ Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austo – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 127.
The Prussians were also finding their own commissariat lacking when it came to supplying adequate food and fodder for its advancing armies. Not much consideration had been given by the War Ministry to the needs of the troops once the initial stages of the campaign had been passed. No systematic schedule for food trains or their unloading stations had been put in place, it being considered that that the armies would live off the land once the campaign had begun in earnest:
For both the Elbe Army and the First Army confusion increased once the frontier was crossed. The former, with no magazines or provision trains, tried to live off the land and found it impossible, ‘….the commander of the 16th Infantry Division prophesied a quick breakdown of morale unless food was brought from the rear and administrative officers appointed to see that it was equitably distributed. The First Army was in even worse condition, for its food columns were completely undisciplined [civilian drivers were hired rather than the military being in charge] and soon clogged the roads behind the army, and the inhabitants of the mountain region did not try to co–operate, but filled up their wells and fled to the forests with their food and cattle, so that requisitioning did not work.’ Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 63.
Despite these shortcomings in their usually meticulous campaign arrangements, the first Prussian troops crossed the frontier on 22nd June, King William I having sent a dispatch to Benedek’s headquarters on the 21st declaring a state of war now existed–very informal.
First Contact in Bohemia.
The first over the border on the Dresden–Rumburg highway were The King’s Hussars, the Rhenish Jäger (8th Battalion), four battalions of fusiliers and two batteries of artillery. These were the advance guard of General Herwarth’s Army of the Elbe, the 14th, 15th and 16th Divisions plus cavalry and guns followed in their wake. Ibid, page 61. On the 23rd June Prince Frederick Charles’s First Army crossed the border heading for Reichenberg , while Crown Prince Frederick William’s Second Army, pushing through the Riesengebirge mountains, was making slow progress in the narrow passes, eventually heading for Gitschin, trusting that the First Army would be holding the Austrians attention long enough to enable him to clear the mountains safely. So that this could be applied he ordered a halt on the 24th June to give his foot–sore troops a much needed rest, after which he proposed to march on three roads, Trautenau to Arnau (1st Corps); to Köninghof (Guard Corps) and via Nachod to Gradlitz (5th Corps). The 6th Corps, which had been putting on a show of distraction on the southern border of Silesia, was ordered to follow immediately. Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 33.
On the Austrian side Benedek dithered and dallied, giving the Prussians the initiative. This, in turn, had a knock–on effect upon the unimaginative Clam–Gallas who, after making contact with the Saxons and the two forces taking on the temporary title of the Army of the Iser, receiving no clear instructions from his chief and prepared to fall back on Josephstadt and join the main Austrian army, thus giving up any chance of holding the mountain passes in western Bohemia and abandoning the important town of Reichenberg without a fight. Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 128. Just what Clam–Gallas had in mind we will never know, but it will be remembered that upon joining forces with the Saxons “both” Clam’s I Corps and the Saxons would come under the command of the Saxon Crown Prince. This arrangement without doubt caused much confusion since it appears that Clam had not informed his brigade commanders concerning the Saxon crown prince’s authority, which would have taken a considerable time to sort out if orders had been issued and sent via Saxon couriers to Austrian formations who, in turn, would probably then have to have sent their own aides back to Clam’s headquarters asking for verification of these orders?
It was however the enterprising General Baron von Edlesheim commanding the Austrian First Light Cavalry Division who scored the first success against the advancing Prussians when he encountered the advance guard of General Heinrich Friedrich von Horn’s 8th Prussian Division at Sichrow, which had been sent forward by Frederick Charles to probe towards Turnau on the Iser. Edlesheim coordinated his artillery and cavalry squadrons so well that Horn was forced to bring up his entire division to try and clear them out of the way, which was finally achieved, but only then with the help of elements of the Prussian 7th Division coming to their assistance; Edelshiem retiring back towards the Iser River with only a minimal loss of men and horses. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 65.
Nothing daunted Fransecky’s Prussian 7th Division pushed on to Turnau which was found to have been abandoned, although the bridge over the Iser had been partly destroyed. While ordering the throwing of a pontoon bridge across the river, Fransecky, upon receiving information that Clam–Gallas had fallen back to Münchengrätz , issued orders for the occupation of Turnau to enable the First Army to have a tête –du –pont for a turning movement against the Austrian position further south along the river. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro –Prussian War 1866, page 236.
Leaving the Prussians the gift of an undefended crossing of the Iser was the result of a complete mix up of orders (or lack thereof) between Clam’s I Corp, the Saxons, and the delayed transmission of messages coming from Benedek’s headquarters. Also, having been given command of both his own Saxon forces and Clam’s corps, Crown Prince Albert decided that he would leave the responsibility of defending the river crossings to the north of Münchengrätz in the hand of Clam, which does seem like trying to duck responsibility for any subsequent mistakes? Also, the confusing instructions coming from Benedek that the river line was to be held by the Saxons and Austrian I Corps, ‘unless the losses suffered in doing so promised to be prohibitive, in which case they were to retire on Miletin, west of Josephstadt.,’ Craig. Gordon A, The battle of Königgrätz, page 66. caused even more problems, with Clam now in charge of operations for which he was totally unfit. Indeed, he had already shown his incompetence when, on 25th June, it was suggested that a strong position could be built to confront the advancing Prussians on the west bank of the Iser River by bolstering Edelshiem’s cavalry by sending him infantry support. This he flatly refused to do, proving his worthlessness as a military commander by allowing the enemy to march into Turnau unopposed. Ibid, page 66.
To compound the issue still further, at 2:00 p.m. on the afternoon of the 26th June the Saxon Crown Prince received a telegram from Benedek to hold Münchengrätz and Turnau at all costs, keeping a sharp watch in the direction of Eisenbrod. The main Austrian army would be advancing to confront the Prussian First Army. Malcolm. Lieutenant Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 40 – 41. This changed the situation once more, with the Saxon prince riding over to Clam’s headquarters and both men agreeing to attempt to recover Turnau by a manoeuvre to threaten the enemy communications via Podol and Sichrow, to this end the Austrian brigade of Major–General von Poshacher, popularly known in the army as the Iron Brigade after its exploits in the Danish war of 1864, began to advance on Podol.
While these events were taking shape Austrian Major–General Leopold Count von Gondrecourt, who was second in command of the I Corps next to Clam–Gallas, had crossed the Iser River at 6:00 a.m. on the morning of 26th June with two battalions, setting his sights on the town of Hühnerwasser some ten kilometres west of Münchengrätz, to confront the Army of the Elbe. Gondrecourt was a brave soldier but also something of a bully who had briefly been the young Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria’s governor, alienating the young prince so much that his mother, the Empress Elizabeth, finally dispensed with his services in 1865.
Gondrecourt’s bravado, which he had displayed during the Danish War kicked in again, regardless of the sacrifice of his men. His forces-1st Battalion 38th Infantry Regiment (Haugwitz), and the 32nd Jäger Battalion, some 1,500 men, came upon a company of Prussian infantry holding the tree line on the edge of Hühnerwasser and a sharp fire fight took place. The sound of gunfire soon brought the remainder of the advance guard of the Army of the Elbe forward to thicken the skirmish line. True to form Gondrecourt, rather than deploying his troops under the cover of the trees, ordered his men to deliver three volleys then charge home with the bayonet. At 300 meters the Prussians let fly with a devastating fire, bringing down heaps of Austrians and causing the remainder to bolt back in confusion. Not content with seeing at firsthand how futile it was to expect men to advance in attack columns against rapid fire, Gondrecourt attempted to gather his forces for another mass bayonet charge which was, however, thwarted when he realised that more Prussian units were approaching the field, and that his own troops were in no condition to face another pummelling. Calling off the action he ordered a retreat back to Münchengrätz, having lost almost 300 officers and men killed wounded or captured to the Prussians 4 officers and 46 men. Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 129. The skirmish at Hühnerwasser was to be the precursor of how things would occur in every other engagement of the war. Time and time again, although the Austrian officers became fully aware of the damage that could be caused by massing their troops, making excellent targets for the rapid fire of the needle gun, they still considered that the only way that their peasant recruits could fight was if they were clamped together in great unwieldy attack columns, their thinking being that troop morale could be held together better and manoeuvres carried out faster in moving blocks. What they forgot was that by bunching their troops like corn stooks they offered the Prussians a target that even the poorest shot could not miss. Therefore the consequences of seeing your comrades fall like leaves in an autumn gale did more in reducing morale than any box–like formation did in attempting to improve it.
The Battle of Podol.
The futility of the Austrian infantry tactics was once more made glaringly obvious when; at around 8:00 p.m. on 26th June, Poshacher’s Iron Brigade came trudging down the road towards Podol which was also being fast approached by elements of Horn’s Prussian 8th Division sent to secure the crossing of the river in the town. Two battalions of Poshacher’s brigade, 1st and 2nd Battalions of Infantry Regiment No 34 (ironically titled King of Prussia) and the brigade 4pdr artillery battery, moved over the river lower down from Podol towards Lankow, where for some peculiar reason they remained, while the main body under Colonel Bergou–Poshacher himself being at Clam–Gallas’s headquarters–and consisting of 18th Jäger battalion and 30th Infantry Regiment (Martini) heading straight for the two stone bridges over the Iser in Podol. Two companies of Austrian infantry were already in the village when the Magdeburg 4th Jäger Battalion of Horn’s division, waded across a ford and threatening their retreat, forced them to retire. Colonel Bergou upon arriving on the field endeavoured to retake the village and adopted the same costly formations and tactics that had cost Gondrecourt so dear at Hühnerwasser. For almost two hours his command, lead by the 18th Jäger Battalion came on with the bayonet; men falling on all sides they eventually drove the Prussians back, only to be cut down mercilessly as they attempted to take the high ground beyond the river. At around 10:15 p.m. Poschacher and Clam reached the village. Clam, true to form, threw even more troops into the fray, their massed attacking columns being blown apart as they attempted to get to grips with their foes. Finally, at 2:00 a.m. on the morning of 27th June, Clam gave the order to retire back to Münchenrätz. The village of Podol and the surrounding countryside was covered in Austrian dead and wounded, one Prussian infantryman stating that his company alone had fired 5,700 rounds in just 33 minutes. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Köiggrätz, page 67. Total Austrian casualties came to 1,048 officers and men, of whom 600 were taken prisoner. The Prussian losses amounted to 12 officers and 118 men killed and wounded a telling indictment of Austria’s outdated tactics and incompetent command structure.
Although realising that there was now no chance of retaking Turnau without support arriving from the main army, Crown Prince Albert still harboured the hope that Benedek would indeed soon be on the move to confront the Prussian First Army and The Army of the Elbe. This pipe dream was shattered when the Saxon prince received a telegram from the lack lustre Austrian commander on the 27th June, informing him that he was still regrouping around Josephstadt, but would be moving out towards Gitschin on the 30th. Realising that the Iser River line was now compromised Albert ordered his forces to prepare to fall back towards Gitshin on 28th June. With the two Prussian western armies effectively united Moltke now bent all his efforts on bringing all three of his armies together on the same battlefield.
The March of the Prussian Second Army.
Having received the good tidings of the Austrian Southern Army’s victory over the Italians at the battle of Custoza (24th June), Benedek shook himself, albeit as it turned out only temporarily, out of his lethargy and at last grasped the necessity of stopping the Prussian Second Army from debauching from the passes of the Riesengebirge Mountains. Although he had placed cavalry detachments to watch his right flank these would soon be swept out of the way as the full weight of Crown Prince Fredrick William’s army began to push through the defiles. The Austrian commander had been fully aware of the advance of the Prussian Second Army since 22nd June, but now the sudden expectation of having a third enemy army to deal with came as a nasty shock to the Benedek, and as his adjutant noted after the war, “At the time, it was obvious that the army commandant still had no definite plan and was merely reacting to events.” As for the military “expert” Krismanic, he considered it necessary to deal with the immediate threat on the Iser, rather than to go floundering around the hills of north-eastern Bohemia. Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 136. Nevertheless both he and Benedek agreed that the mountain passes should be blocked safeguarding the Austrian right flank and rear and to this end, on 26th June, Ramming’s VI Corps was detached to hold the defile at Nachod, while Gablenz’s X Corps was ordered to block the ones at Eipel and Trautenau. Ibid, page 136 – 137.
Unfortunately the Austrian commander and his Operations Chief had left thing far too late as the Prussian Second Army was now closing rapidly on the very places that their troops had been sent to hold. The neuralgic Ramming was the first to butt–up against the advance guard of the Prussian V Army Corps under rough old general Steinmetz, which had already passed through Nachod and had taken up a position on a plateau overlooking the village of Wysokow.
The Battle of Nachod.
At first light on 27th June Ramming, his face wrapped around with a scarf, rather like Marley’s Ghost, was urging his troops forward on the twenty kilometre march to Nachod. Some units had started at 3:30 a.m., with the others following on at 5:00 a.m., none having been able to cook breakfast. Ibid, page 138. Ramming was therefore chagrined to find the Prussians already drawn up on the high ground at Wysokow, and it was obvious that if the pass at Nachod was to be denied to the rest of Steinmetz’s corps then these troops would have to be cleared out of the way. At 9:00 a.m. the first Austrian unit to arrive on the field was Major–General von Hertwegh’s Brigade which, after delivering a few salvos with its artillery then commenced to repeat the same outdated troop formations that were to become synonymous with Austrian tactics throughout the campaign–the battalion column. As these moving masses climbed the plateau the needle–gun mowed them down in windrows and by 10:00 a.m. Hertwegh’s brigade had shot its bolt. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 73 – 74.
Despite witnessing the disaster that had befallen one of his brigades, Ramming was still intent on clearing the Prussians from the plateau and called up two more of his brigades to dislodge the stubborn foe and, despite horrendous casualties, by noon their sacrifice had forced the Prussians back to the point where they were in danger of being driven down into the constricted defile around Nachod where the Austrian artillery would have laid down such a crippling fire that it may have compelled Steinmetz to retire. Ibid, page 74.
It was at this stage of the battle that the Austrians paused to rest; they were totally worn out by marching and fighting under a scorching sun. Even allowing for Craig’s opinion that it was Ramming’s facial pain that blunted his judgement, and Ramming’s own view, admitted later, that a halt in the assaults was ill advised, the troops were actually worn out and in no position to press the attack at this time. See Craig, page 74, and Wawro, page 143.
While three of his brigades attempted to catch their breath Ramming’s fourth brigade, under Colonel von Waldstätten, which was now arriving from Skalice, was directed to protect the flank and rear of their exhausted comrades. As these troops were moving into position Prince Slom’s Austrian Cavalry Brigade came trotting into the village of Wysokow, from where they could threaten the Prussian right and the road leading to Nachod. Slom’s command consisted of two regiments of cuirassiers, the ‘Hessen’ and the ‘Kaiser Ferdinand’; both heavy cavalry, but now no longer burdened with the front breastplate or cuirass (hence their title), which had been abolished in 1864.
To deal with the threat from Slom’s cavalry the Prussian V Corps own attached cavalry, consisting of the 4th Silesian Dragoon Regiment and the West Prussian Uhlan Regiment No 1, There is some confusion concerning which regiments were engaged on the Prussian side. Craig gives the 8th Prussian Dragoon Regiment and the West Prussian Uhlan Regiment. Quintin Barry states that it … Continue reading was sent to oppose it. This clash of horse was so vigorously contested by both sides that it surprised onlookers by it fierceness and its duration with, “…units meeting and passing through, re-forming, and fighting hand to hand in small groups.” Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 74. This prolonged cavalry action proved more beneficial to the Prussians than the Austrians, allowing Steinmetz time to bring up more infantry and artillery whose fire power now began to tip the balance in their favour.
Whether it was his facial pain causing problems with his decision making, or just a growing pugnacity to drive the Prussians back we will probably never know, but now Ramming seems to have lost the thread, allowing his subordinate brigade commanders to take matters into their own hands and resulting in the usual suicidal attacks in mass columns, which were all shot to pieces without gaining any ground. A final flank attack by the Prussian Uhlans, coupled with the concentrated fire of 42 cannon that Steinmetz had manage to bring up in support, broke the Austrian assault line and by 2:00 p.m. it was all over, Ramming ordering a fall back to Skalice.
Ramming had thrown four full brigades into the battle piecemeal and the resulting causalities were five times greater than those of his opponents, 5,719 Austrian offices and men (some sources going as high as 7,500) to Steinmetz’s 1,122. No flanking manoeuvres were attempted by the Austrians and the resulting carnage still did nothing to dissuade their use of clumsy and costly battalion attack columns. Having said that, maybe, just maybe, if the self opinionated Krismanic and the out of touch with reality Benedek had sent Ramming’s corps to block the defile at Nachod earlier, rather than wearing out his troops on a forced march that arrived too late, then given the Austrian soldiers natural élan, coupled with a square meal, things could indeed have been very different. As one Austrian witness said later: “Our men were sent through tall grass over broken ground after a six hour march under a burning sun. They were pushed to their limits before the battle even began.” Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austo – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1966. Page 144.
The Battle of Trautenau.
All through the morning the 27th June Krismanic still refused to believe that the Prussian Second Army would be able to concentrate sufficient strength through the mountain defiles. Even when the news that Ramming was in action at Nachod arrived by telegram at midday he still sat behind his potable military desk pontificating meaningless ideas and plans instead of riding forward to see how things stood for himself; finally confirming his inability to adapt to any military situation that he had not bothered to embrace by stating: “I know of something better to do [than riding to the front]; I am going to sleep,” and promptly retired to his bed. That Benedek should, as Commander–in–Chief, have done his utmost to keep his finger on the pulse of the armies’ deployment and well being is glaringly obvious, but he was also laid up in bed throughout the day with chronic stomach pains and there was absolutely no one else who could, or would, take on responsibility. Quintin. Barry, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 247.
While Ramming was retiring from Nachod to lick his wounds, ten kilometres to the west the Prussian Guard Corps was funnelling its way through the defile at Eypel without any opposition. Ten kilometres still further west again, at Trautenau, things were not going quite so well for General Adolf Bonin’s Prussian 1st Corps. Here, on the high ground rising behind Trautenau the Austrian X Corps under Lieutenant Field–Marshal Ludwig von Gablenz awaited their arrival. Craig gives us a thumb–nail sketch of his character: “…a curious mixture of military talent, political ambition, and personal vanity…sometimes called the ‘lucky mushroom from Saxony,’ Gablenz had been in the Austrian Army since 1833, had won the Ritterkreuz of the Order of Maria Theresa at Kaschau in Hungary in 1849, had distinguished himself at Magenta in 1859 and Veile in Denmark in 1864, and had served most recently as Governor General of Holstien. He was cool and resourceful in battle, had great personal bravery, and understood the use of terrain and of all weapons; and he was highly regarded by such a good judge as Archduke Albert. His weakness, made manifest in Denmark, was his willingness to accept losses in order to gain his objective. All in all, he was too much soldier for Bonin, a timorous and unenterprising troop leader.” Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgräz, page 76.
Gablenz had managed to get Colonel Mondl’s infantry brigade into position at 7:45 a.m. on the morning of the 27th June, and these troops now gave Bonin’s advance guard a peppering as they came up though the pass. The surprised Prussians broke into the houses of Trautenau and from the upstairs windows and from the rooftops began to return a heavy fire which, however, proved as deadly to friend as to foe, bringing down many of their own men who were endeavouring to clear the heights of Austrians. Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 145.
Hearing the noise of battle Bonin rode forward to check out the situation for himself, and soon came to the conclusion that the Austrians must be cleared from the heights as they commanded the only road by which he would be able to join the Guard Corps and the Prussian 5th Corps. Also noting that his own advance guard was too weak to accomplish this task he called up six battalions from the main body of his corps, which was at that moment near the village of Parshnitz, sending them on a two mile turning movement against the Austrian right flank. Although the distance was not great, it was nevertheless rugged and steep, thick woods covering the approaches in many places, plus the day had become stiflingly hot. These factors made the flanking movement a slow process, and it was almost 1:00 p.m. before these troops were able to put pressure on the Austrian position. Gablenz, in the meantime, had no intention of allowing the Prussians to cut off Mondl’s brigade, and ordered it to fall back on Hohenbruck and Alt–Rognitz. Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 57.
General Bonin, either not knowing, or underestimating Gablenz’s fighting qualities, was under the impression that the Austrians had had enough and were in full retreat, informing a adjutant of the 1st Guard Division who had ridden over from Eipel to inquire if the general needed any help, that he was now quite sure that the defile of Trautenau was secure. Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 147. Bonin was in for a nasty shock.
Gablenz had no intention of giving up the fight. He now had two fresh brigades on the field and threw them in a combined frontal and flanking attack (for which he was notorious) against the high ground of the Hopfenberg, Galgenberg and the Johannesberg, effectively cutting across the Prussian line of communications. In response Bonin sent out a series of orders which, owing to muddled staff work and lack of any knowledge regarding the terrain, was exploited by Gablenz to full effect. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 76. This exploitation was, however, made at a price, with Austrian bodies piling up on the hillsides. With the entrance of Gablenz’s fourth brigade under Major–General von Knebel the Hopfenberg was taken by storm, while the brigade under Colonel Grivicics carried out a flanking movement around Trautenau. This proved too much for Bonin who ordered a retreat, which became so hurried and confused that it was not brought under control until it had reached the other side of the mountains, as far as its former camp site of the day before. Ibid, page 77.
The death toll was, once again, disproportionate when one considers that it was an Austrian victory. Indeed, the title Pyrrhic is well applied to Gablenz’s result at Trautenau; Austrian losses amounting to 5,000, Prussian, considerably lower, at around 1,300. It is interesting to read what Wawro has to say about conditions after the battle:
After the battle, Trautenau and the hills around it were strewn with dead and wounded. Three generations later, in 1936, a German historian visited the town and reported that “old people here still speak in awe of the rows and heaps of Austrian corpses that day.” Neither side had made any provision for casualties, and the anguished cries of the wounded must have detracted from the elation felt by the survivors….Less fortunate [wounded] ones were removed to a bowling alley in Trautenau to have their wounds scoured with petroleum and creosote, and their injured limbs sawn off. Others were loaded into springless carts and borne off to nearby monasteries by charitable monks and nuns. Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 150.
As the news of Ramming’s hammering at Nachod arrived at Austrian headquarters Benedek, between bouts of having to dash to the lavatory, managed to issue fresh orders and at 6:00 p.m. on 27th June the Archduke Leopold’s VIII Corps was instructed to march on and hold the town of Skalitz, blocking any advance in that direction by Steinmetz’s Prussians. The thinned out brigades of Ramming’s Corps were to act as a reserve, Ramming himself sending a message to Leopold stating that, ‘after the long and serious action in which my troops were engaged today, they are exhausted, and not in a condition successfully to repulse an attack, which may be expected early tomorrow.’ Unfortunately Leopold’s troops would not reach their destination until around 7:00 a.m. on the morning of 28th June, which meant that Ramming had to improvise a defensive line on the high ground around Skalitz. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgräz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 254.
Now knowing full well that the Prussians planned an envelopment of his army, Benedek still issued no orders to move his four intact army corps and three cavalry divisions against the Prussian Crown Prince’s Second Army. His adherence to the waffling proposals of Krismanic caused him to only consider marching on Gitschin, and therefore it was necessary to keep his forces together rather than detaching troops to aid Gablenz or any more to bolster Ramming, both of whom had been sending urgent requests for reinforcements. When Benedek’s intelligence chief, Colonel Karl von Tegetthoff, recently returned from Nachod, informed his chief that the proposed move west would prove to be too late and that all their strength should be directed against the Prussian Second Army who were closer and therefore more of a threat, he was told to mind his own business. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 78.
On the morning of the 28th June the Austrian commander in chief, now free of his gastric ailment, decided to ride to Skalitz to assess the situation there for himself. Still popular with his troops, who had no idea just how disastrously ‘Father Benedek’ was leading them, the soldiers greeted him with enthusiasm:
When Benedek rode through the waiting troops on a bright June morning he was greeted everywhere with enthusiasm. The doubts and pessimism…gave way before the appearance of the beloved commander in person, and a storm of cheering followed the familiar figure as it passed on horseback, spare and upright, with the salient features and the piercing dark eyes under the plumed hat. Presland. J, (Skelton,G), Vae Victis: the life of Ludwig von Benedek 1804 – 81. Quoted in: Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866.
After inspecting Ramming’s depleted formations and listening attentively as Ramming put forward his proposal for attacking Steinmetz, Benedek then rode across the Aupa River to Skalitz to check on the position taken up by Archduke Leopold’s VIII Corps whose brigades were posted facing eastward along the high ground overlooking the river from where Steinmetz’s Prussian columns could be seen in the distance, about one hours march away. Spending some time observing the enemy movement through his binoculars, Benedek came to the conclusion that the Prussians were not seeking battle but merely moving northward to join forces with the Guard Divisions. Obviously quite unperturbed by the situation he then ordered the withdrawal of Ramming and Leopold’s Corps back to the Iser, using Festetics IV Corps, which had come forward in support, to act as a rearguard to this movement. Thereafter Benedek and his kite trailing staff rode back to Josephstadt, “abandoning what was probably the best opportunity offered during the whole campaign.” Craig. Gordon, A. The Battle of Königgrätz, page 79.
The Battle of Münchengrätz.
By the 28th June Calm–Gallas’s I Corp had taken up a holding position at the town of Münchengrätz,, while Crown Prince Albert of Saxony’s army retired on Gitschin taking, for some strange reason, the circuitous route south through Jungbunzlau, ‘…a lengthy, exhausting detour that would cost the Saxon prince half his strength at the battle of Gitschin .’ Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 158. The problem was, even allowing for Clam’s ineptitude, neither he nor the Saxon Crown Prince had any clear idea what Benedek’s intentions were. Did he intend to throw his main weight against the Prussian First Army, or was Clam, backed up by the Saxons, just to fight a spoiling action buying time while Benedek moved to crush the Prussian Second Army?
Whatever the Austrian commander–in–chief’s intentions were, Clam soon had a fight on his hands as the 16th Division of Herwarth’s Army of the Elbe, leading the advance, began to approach the Iser Ibid, page 159 River heading towards Münchengräz. Here Clam had deployed Colonel Count Leningen’s Brigade to defend the town, with the Brigade of Ludwig Piret occupying Musky Hill, and the Brigade of Colonel von Abele (detached from III Corps and originally under Major–General Kalik) covering the road from Podel. The remaining two brigades of Clam’s I Corps under Major–General Poshacher and Major–General Ringelsheim were already on their way to Gitschin. Ibid, page 159.
By 10:00 a.m. a general engagement had developed as the advance guard of General Horn’s 8th Division of the Prussian First Army now appeared on the field and began to attack Musky Hill. At the same time Herwarth’s 16th Division, parched with thirst after their arduous march, made a dash for Münchengrätz, which they found deserted, Leninigen’s Austrian brigade having pulled out heading back to Gitschin. Finding the town undefended the Prussians broke down the doors of the Wallenstein Palace and slaked their thirst by staving–in the huge beer kegs found in the ducal brewery. Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 159.
With Leningen falling back, Abele’s brigade held on to the southern slope of Musky Hill long enough for the other Austrian forces to retire, and only just in time too, as Fransecky’s 7th Prussian Division came swinging around the hill in preparation to cutting off their retreat; Abele conducting a well organised fighting fall back and causing Fransecky’s turning movement to have proved ineffectual. Even so, and considering that it was really no more than a heavy skirmish, the Austrians had lost over 500 killed and wounded, and another 500 were taken prisoners, most of these from Piret’s 45th Regiment, made up of Venetians recruited around Verona. These troops had thrown down their weapons and surrendered to Fransecky, glad to be out of the fight. The Prussian losses amounted to 130, killed, wounded and missing. Ibid, page 159.
The Battles of Skalitz and Soor.
Benedek’s orders for The Archduke Leopold’s VIII Corps and Ramming’s VI Corps to retire from Skaliz on the 28th June, after being himself confident that Steinmetz’s V Corps was not seeking battle, was not at all to Leopold’s liking. He could not convince himself that such a retreat was the correct way of handling the situation. Without consulting either Festetics or Ramming, let alone informing Benedek, the Austrian Archduke took it upon himself to attack Steinmetz, a challenge the old Prussian war horse was only too willing to accept.
Instead of using his corps artillery to full effect to soften up the advancing enemy columns, which some batteries had begun doing from the high ground to the east of the River Aupa, sowing confusion and causing heavy casualties among the Prussians, Leopold allowed his brigade commanders to act independently and as a consequence of this the battle once again turned into a shooting gallery for the needle gun, with the ubiquitous battalion attack columns, sent in piecemeal by the Austrians being blown away as they attempted to storm the Prussian position in the Dubno wood; at 3:00 p.m. on the afternoon of the 28th June Leopold’s battered corps was in full retreat. The result was as to be expected, Leopold’s VIII Corps sustaining more than 5,500 casualties to the Prussians 1,365 officers and men. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 81.
To add to Austrian woes, the losses incurred at Trautenau due to Gablenz’s successful but costly defeat of Bonin’s Prussians on 27th June, had caused the morale of his troops to become questionable, and Gablenz sent a message to Benedek asking for reinforcements for his shaken command since he had received news that the Prussian Guard were now on the move through the Eypel pass towards Trautenau. This message seemed to have galvanized Benedek into action, ordering Festetics IV Corps to place troops around the area of the villages of Prussnitz, Kaile and Staudnitz, informing Gablenz that his request had been complied with. Needing no urging to take the offensive and give the Prussian Guard a sound thrashing, Gablenz, with the knowledge that reinforcements were on their way, moved forward. The problem was there would be no reinforcements, Benedek–showing once more that he was out of his depth as army commander–had cancelled the order to Festetics but had failed to inform Gablenz that he had done so. The result was that Gablenz, expecting to be the aggressor, found himself having to fight his way out of a trap. He had split his corps, pushing on with three of his brigades towards Praussniz, where he expected to make contact with Festetics reinforcements, together with whom he would turn the enemy coming through the pass. His fourth brigade, under the command of Grivicic, was to advance through the village of Alt Rognitz to come in on the right flank of the Prussians. Ibid, page 82.
The commander of the Prussian Guard Corps, Prince August von Würtemberg, a fretful fellow even when not under any stress, had started General Hiller von Gärtringen’s 1st Guard Division through the pass at Eypel at an early hour, and its 2nd Brigade was already through and marching on Praussniz and Keile, with the 1st Brigade close on its heels. The Austrian brigade of Major General von Knebel came up against Hiller’s advanced units as they cleared the wooded terrain in front of the village of Burkersdorf, Knebel attempting to slow the Prussian advance by sending in a mass of battalion storm columns over undulating terrain, which were decimated by rifle fire and sent reeling back to Burkersdorf. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgräz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 263.
At around 11:00 a.m. Hiller’s troops had passed through the village of Staudenz intent on pressing home their attack on Knebel’s depleted brigade, which was receiving support from Colonel Mondl’s brigade closing on Neu Rognitz. Gablenz himself, now aware of the danger he was facing, ordered his other brigade, under Major General Wimpffen, to fall back westward towards Pilnikau with the corps’ baggage train–and only in the nick of time–as the Prussians pressed their attack home, driving Knebel’s shocked and shredded troops back in disorder towards the village of Soor. Mondl’s Austrian brigade was also hit hard as the Prussian 2nd Guard Fusilier Battalion, which had become separated from its parent unit, made a dash for the woods just south of Neu Rognitz. Only by costly counter attacks did the Austrians manage to extricate themselves, finally falling back in the general retreat now ordered by Gablenz. Ibid, page 264
Unfortunately Grivicic’s brigade never received the order to retire and found itself bereft of assistance with the enemy closing in ready to chew it up. Having briefly halted his troops to catch their breath in the village of Rudersdorf, south of Alt Rognitz, Grivicic’s was about to commence his march when his troops came under fire from four companies of the 2nd Prussian Guard Division, who were acting as flankers to their main column. In an hour long contest these four companies maintained a steady rate of fire with their breech loaders that crippled every attempt by the Austrians to get to grips with them. Once again their battalion attack columns carpeted the ground with dead and wounded. Despite their heavy losses the Austrians, by weight of numbers and dwindling Prussian ammunition, eventually began to make headway, and by 1:00 p.m. Grivicic had driven the enemy back and was preparing to resume his advance. This was soon halted however when Austrian skirmishers, advancing through the corn fields south of Rudersdorf ran into powerful units of the 4th Prussian Guard Brigade whose rapid volleys stopped all forward Austrian movement in its tracks, things deteriorating even further when still more enemy formations began to arrive drawn in by the sound of battle, causing some Austrian units to scatter in panic. Grivicic’s himself described what happed next:
I needed desperately to communicate with Gablenz, but I had no cavalry; my adjutants were all wounded, and I had lost most of my staff offices at Trautenau the previous day….We had to retire, but with so much confusion behind us, it was impossible. Unable to sound the ‘retreat, ‘I signalled ‘rally’ over and over again, but it was no use. Then I too was shot and fell from my horse. Karton 2294, 6 – 115, Vienna, September 10, 1866, Colonel Grivicic. Quoted in, Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro –Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 165.
Gablenz Corps had suffered heavily once again with losses amounting to 123 officers and 3,696 men. Grivicic’s brigade suffered so many casualties and troops taken prisoner that only 1,600 men managed to rejoin the Austrian main army, and of these a mere 600 would be fit enough to stand on the field at Königgrätz. Ibid, page 165.
The Battle of Gitschin.
Despite Prussian victories and the slowly drawing together of all three of his armies, Moltke was still worried that the 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 the First Army Quartermaster General, Major–General Wolf Louis Anton Ferdinand von Stülpnagel, informing him of the situation regarding the Second Army, and 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 the Saxon Corps. The opportunity of making the most of so great a superiority will perhaps not occur.
Sending a further telegram to the Crown Prince 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. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 270.
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 on the 28th, and now, at 9:30 on the morning of the 29th he set off himself with the rest of the First Army in the same direction. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgräz, page 86.
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 Iser line, was that it was the most important crossroads between that river to the Elbe, forming the hub for the major highways leading north, south, east and west, and being surrounded by good defensive ground. Here, on 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 expecting to be relieved during the evening by the arrival of Archduke Ernst’s III Corps, to be followed by more troops arriving the next day. Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 183.
Also nearing Gitschin were Crown Prince Albert’s Saxons, whose circuitous route 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 Dilec; the whole position extending from the right at Eisensadtd to the left at Unter–Lochow and being divided by the heights of Privysin, thereby effectively causing the forthcoming battle to become two separate engagements. (see map). Ibid, page 184 – 185.
The first shots were exchanged when, at 3:00 p.m. on the afternoon of 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, its accuracy soon being felt when Tümpling’s orderly officer, riding forward with the general to reconnoitre the position, was torn apart by a shell; Prussian official history, The Campaign of 1866 in Germany. The Department of Military History of the Prussian General Staff. Translated by Colonel von Wright and Captain Henry M. Hozier. Book The … Continue reading 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. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 87. Having held the enemy at bay for three hours Ringelsheim 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. Quoted in, Barry.Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 276. 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, Ringelsheim sent his 73rd Regiment (Württemberg) to gain time for the withdrawal of the rest of the brigade by attacking the Prussian line, this resulting in the usual decimation of their attacking columns with the 73rd sustaining losses amounting to 600 officers and men, but their sacrifice permitting the successful retirement of the other units. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 87 – 88.
Over on the Austrian right Tümpling’s advance had been checked by well positioned artillery and infantry on the Privysin heights to the west of the road from Kniznitz, held by Abele’s Brigade and Poschacher’s Iron Brigade. To their right again were ranged 56 guns in a mass battery running from Brada to the village of Diletz, 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 Eisenstadtl, stood Austrian Brigade Piret, together with another massed 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, 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 turned 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. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 89., There are conflicting accounts of times and events during this battle. I have followed Craig and Wawro, but will be giving a more detailed account of the engagement after our visit to the site later … Continue reading
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 at 8:00 p.m., which had caused Ringelsheim’s withdrawal, stating: “I have suspended the move to the Iser. Today the army will take up new positions described in the appendix. Continue your movements to join with the grand army. Until the juncture is complete, avoid all major battles.” Warow tells us that ‘General Gondrecourt seized the order, turned it over, and back again. Where was the promised appendix or Beilage describing the new position of the North Army? “Lag nicht bei!” he thundered…. Though Benedek had ordered Iser Army to rejoin the North Army, he did not specify a meeting place. Warow. Geoffery, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 189.
Clam Gallas and the Saxon Crown Prince, after a brief consultation, both 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 up 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. Quoted in, Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Könoggrätz, page 89.
In an attempt to assist their beleaguered allies, Edelsheim sent in repeated spoiling attacks with his cavalry, while the Austrian Brigade Piret, losing heavily, came in on the enemy flank from Eisenstadt, finally enabling the Saxons to pull out of the fight. Ibid, page 90.
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 Crown 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 then given to the Saxon Life Brigade. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 90.
Two roads had been chosen for retirement, the Saxons were to take the south road to Königgrätz, while the Austrians took the road east to Königinhof. The problem was that the Prussian advance was so rapid that, at 10:30 p.m. Werder’s 3rd Prussian Division was in the streets of Gitschin, causing pandemonium, the liaison units designated to direct the line of march for each column in the darkness having bolted and as a consequence one massive bottleneck built up on a single road. Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 190. 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, his worn out and depressed corps arriving during the morning of 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, ‘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 hapless 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 the wounded?’ Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 90.
The “abattoirs’” account for the Austrians came to 184 officers, 4,714 men and 56 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. Ibid, page 91.
Action at Schweinschädel
Had Austrian resistance to the Prussian Second Army’s advance through the mountains been more determined it may have inflicted sufficient damage that it could have altered the course of the campaign, the resistance that it did encounter, particular at Trautenau, had caused Moltke to adjust his plans slightly, now altering the junction point of the First and Second Armies to the east of Gitschin. Prince Frederick Charles had been ordered to “disengage” the Crown Prince, that is, to draw the enemy onto himself, however the principal objective was still the same and on the morning of 29th June the Second Army still continued its converging march towards Königinhof. An engagement was fought at Schweinschädel between Steinmetz’s 5th Corps and Count Festetics VI Austrian Corps in which the Count considered it his task to retreat to the Elbe rather than offering any solid resistance to the Prussian advance, the resulting half hearted action petering out at 7:30 p.m., with the Austrians sustaining 1,500 killed and wounded and another 1,000 captured, to Prussian losses of 15 officers and 379 men. Since crossing the frontier the Prussian Second Army had, within four days, and despite the setback at Trautenau, mauled four Austrian corps and taken ten thousand prisoners, as well as twenty cannon and several standards. By dawn on the 30th June the Guard Corps and the 5th Corps were at Gradlitz, on the line of the upper Elbe River; the 1st Corps was at Pilnikau and the 6th Corps at Skalitz echeloned on the flanks, the Crown Prince set up his headquarters at Prussnitz where he now awaited the advance of the 1st Army which would allow him access to the Elbe bridges. While his weary soldiers rested patrols were sent out to reconnoitre the crossing over the river making sure that no enemy movements were threatening, and also in preparation for the continuation of his army’s advance on 1st July. Malcolm. Lieutenant Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 79 – 80.
The Austrian Retreat to Königgrätz.
After frittering away every opportunity to use his central position to good effect Benedek had eventually managed the concentration of his army, albeit at the cost of 30,000 men either killed, wounded, taken prisoner, or through desertion. He no longer retained a zone of manoeuvre and the morale of his troops was severely shaken. On the 30th June Lieutenant–Colonel von Beck of the Emperor Franz Joseph’s personal Adjutantur arrived at Benedek’s headquarters which had been established at Königgrätz. Here he found that the gloom and despondency among the staff reflected their dissatisfaction at their commander’s indecision and lack of forthright leadership as well as Kismanic’s unsound advice and unhelpful attitude. A council of war was duly conducted with Beck in attendance, in which Benedek poured out his woes, stating that his army had suffered substantial losses and that it was his considered opinion that unless terms for peace were decided upon very soon then his army would be threatened with disaster. This came as a shock to Beck who advised Benedek that with things being so bad he should inform the Emperor immediately which, with the state of mind that the army commander was in, was soon put into effect and on 1st July a telegraph was sent to Franz Joseph at the Hofburg stating that, ‘I beg Your Majesty urgently to make peace at any price. Catastrophe for the army is unavoidable. Lieutenant–Colonel von Beck is returning at once.’ Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 92.
The reply from the Austrian monarch was far from what Benedek expected but, there again, he must have known that the temperament of the Emperor was such that he would not consider defeat until it actually occurred. Therefore the telegram sent back in response should have come as no surprise, ‘To conclude peace is impossible’ [why he did not state] ‘I order you, if it is unavoidable, to begin a retreat. Has a battle taken place?’ Of course, this last query concerning a battle has been seen by some as the reason why Benedek offered to fight instead of retiring. However, it was not part of the Emperor’s original instructions but had been inserted as an addition by Franz Joseph’s Adjutant–General von Crenneville, who later admitted the fact because ‘… how can one begin a retreat without losing a battle?’ Ibid, page 93. Maybe Benedek did consider it as an order to give battle, but it may also have been that he considered that to fight now, on ground of his choosing, and with his army united, was a better option than attempting an even more costly retreat. Craig puts forward another reason why the Austrian commander may have decided to offer battle which should he considered, ‘Benedek’s mercurial temperament….The wire to the Emperor had been sent under the influence of the news from Gitschin, when Benedek’s spirits were at their lowest ebb. But he spent the next two days in the saddle, visiting troop units and inspecting the terrain around Königgrätz, as he did so his belief in the possibility of victory revived. By July 2nd the tone of his messages to Vienna had lightened, and his subordinates were noting that he was more like the old Benedek than he had been during the whole campaign.’ Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 93. Warow takes the view that Benedek was on the verge of a nervous breakdown by 1st July. One does not shake off such a debilitating psychological … Continue reading This may well be true, since orders were also received from the Emperor to relieve Krismanic, Clam Gallas and Henikstein of their commands and duties and choose a new Chief–of–Staff, news which must have lifted his spirits greatly–although not in the case of Henikstein whom, for some peculiar reason he wished to keep–knowing that he was free from the influence of two incompetents; whether his choice of battlefield, with the River Elbe at his back, placed him in the same category will be considered later.
The Prussian Advance.
Although the Prussians were themselves fatigued by marching and fighting, nevertheless they were still in far better shape than the dejected and demoralised Austrians. The improper use of their cavalry became blatantly obvious when, after each victorious engagement, the Austrians were allowed to make good their escape and regroup. The plight of the Saxons and the I Corps after the battle at Gitschin was such that a vigorous pursuit by cavalry would in all probability have destroyed both as a fighting force, thereafter Benedek would have had no choice other than to retire back to the defensive position around Olmütz, which would have been tantamount to losing the war. Realising the weakness in the use of the cavalry, and therefore a weakness in his own tactical planning, Moltke took pains in seeing that in future campaigns the mounted arm of the service would be better used.
After receiving the news that the Second Army had reached the Elbe River line Moltke left Berlin by train for the front with the King and his entourage on 30th June, sending the following telegram from the stopping point at Kohlfurt station:
“The 2nd Army will hold its ground on the upper Elbe; its right wing will be prepared to effect a junction with the left wing of the 1st Army, by way of Königinhof, as the latter advances. The 1st Army will press on to Königgrätz without delay. Any forces of the enemy that may be on the right flank of this advance will be attacked by General Herwath von Bittenfeld [Army of the Elbe] and driven from the enemy’s main body.” Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 83 – 84.
These instructions show that Moltke, although he was unaware of the exact location and plans of the Austrians, still had his mind set on the idea of encirclement. This was probably not properly appreciated by many of the top brass Prussian army commanders who still considered that one had to mass ones forces, a la Napoleon in the event that the enemy would strike at each portion of a divided force and defeat it in detail. This point was mooted at a war council held in Gitschin on 2nd July by several Prussian generals who voiced their concern on this issue, ‘each propounding novel theories as to where Benedek might be.’ The King being present at the meeting, in his capacity as Commander–in–Chief, allowed Moltke to have his way, the First and Second Armies were to remain separated. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 95.
Moltke was still under the impression that his opponent would follow the customary excepted military procedure and pull back across the Elbe, rather than fighting a battle with one of Europe’s largest rivers in his rear, consequently orders for 3rd July were that the main body of the 1st Army was to rest with only the 1st Corps being directed to make contact with left wing of the Army of the Elbe, which had been sent orders to advance towards the bridgeheads on the Elbe below Pardubitz and secure them. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 95. It was only after Colonel von Zychlinski, who with the advance guard of the Prussian 7th Division had reached the castle at Cerekwitz, happened to notice that during the night of the 1st–2nd July camp fires suddenly appeared on the high ground to the east and south east, some eight kilometres distant. At dawn on the 2nd July one of Zychlinski’s patrols took a prisoner who told them that the Austrian III Corps was encamped in the Chlum–Lipa region. This information was promptly dispatched to 1st Army head quarters where it was decided to send out more patrols to investigate. The resulting reconnoitring detecting not just one Austrian corps in the area but four, and maybe even their whole army. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 301. This discovery, far from easing Moltke’s anxiety concerning the whereabouts of the Austrians, now confronted him with a dilemma. Benedek had not retired behind the Elbe as anticipated and now he was faced with the possibility of having the whole Austrian army to his front gathered ready to attack the Prussian 1st Army with all its strength.
Moltke, as usual, kept a clear head. It was Prince Frederick Charles who, by his impetuosity, could have ruined the Chief–o f–Staff’s well laid plan of campaign. The prince’s instructions from headquarters had been, before the Austrians were found in great strength, to attack, if possible with superior numbers, if the enemy was found anywhere in front of the Elbe River. Frederick Charles needed no encouragement in carrying out such orders, and now began preparing to strike the first blow before the anticipated Austrian offensive kicked off. It is worth studying the orders issued by the Prussian Prince to see how much his conception of the forthcoming battle differed from Moltke’s:
At daybreak tomorrow the 1st Army will be formed on the Horitz–Königgräz road, ready for action against the position on the Bistritz at Sadowa.
General Horn’s division (8th) will be in position at Milowitz at 2 a.m.
General Fransecky’s division (7th) will march by Gross–Jeritz to Cerekwitz, and will take post at the castle there at 2 a.m.
The divisions of General von Manstein (6th) and von Tümpling (5th) will start at 1:30 a.m., under command of von Manstein, and will be posted as reserves south of Horitz; the 6th Division to the east, the 5th Division to the west of the Horitz–Königgrätz road. These divisions to be in their positions by 3:00 a.m.
The 2nd Corps will move one division (3rd) to Psanek, the other (4th) to Bristau. Both divisions to be in position by 2:00 a.m.
The Cavalry Corps will saddle at dawn and await further orders in its bivouacs.
The Reserve Artillery will advance to Horitz; the reserve artillery of the 3rd Corps will take post astride the Horitz–Miletin road, and the reserve artillery of the 4th Corps astride the Horitz–Gitschin road.
General Herwath (Army of the Elbe) will march with all his available troops to Nechanitz, where he will arrive as early as possible.
H.R.H. the Crown Prince has requested to take post with one or two corps in front of Josephstadt, and to march with another corps to Gross–Bürglitz.
As soon as possible the columns will open communication with one another, as well as with General Herwath on the right and the 2nd Army on the left.
I will be at Milowitz at dawn.
It will be seen from these orders that Frederick Charles considered that his brother’s army should play only a secondary role in the coming battle, the main action and glory being preserved for himself. Moreover, after the above orders were written, he wrote to the Crown Prince setting out his personal ideas regarding the enemy position and that he was prepared to attack and drive them back to the Elbe. He also added that, “As, moreover, large bodies of the enemy coming from Josephstadt have crossed to the right bank of the Elbe, I can only suppose that they intend to operate against my left flank if I push on towards Königgrätz. This action would compel me to divide my forces, and I should not then be able to attain complete success in my task–the destruction of the enemy that is in my front.” Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 91 – 93.
Frederick Charles’s orders arrived at the royal head quarters at around 10:00 p.m.; the King having gone to bed was awakened by an aide. After studying the orders the monarch sent the aide to pass them on to Moltke who immediately realised that his original plan had been compromised, that being that, “All available forces should move simultaneously upon the front and flank of the enemy.” What Frederick Charles had ordered was just a frontal assault, the Second Army playing only a minor supportive role. Obviously, it was now too late to alter the orders which had already been delivered to each division, therefore Moltke confirmed the prince’s instructions but, in his own battle orders he diplomatically asked the Prussian Crown Prince to take immediate preparations for the Second Army to use its full force and come across to assist the First–“…by moving with all forces against the right flank of the presumed enemy order of battle, attacking him as soon as possible.” These orders were given top priority and entrusted to the King’s aide Lieutenant–Colonel Count Finck von Finckenstein, who mounted up and road through the night to the Crown Prince’s head quarters at Königinhof, while to add urgency to the importance of the order a duplicate was also sent by a different route. Craig. Gordon A. The Battle of Königgrätz, page 98.
Moltke’s concern that the Austrian commander was planning to fall upon the First and Elbe Armies was, as it turned out, quite unfounded, Benedek was not in the mood for, or even considering any offensive operations, being content to sit tight and be caught in the snare that was now being prepared to trap him. In fact, with the pending sacking of Henikstein, Krismanic and Clam _ Gallas Benedek, besides his overriding duties concerning the disposition of his army for the forthcoming battle, also had to deal with allocating a new commander to the I Corps as well as trying to appease Krismanic and Henikstein, both of whom were still hanging about headquarters, awaiting the arrival of the new Chief of Staff, General von Baumgarten who, as it happened, did not arrive on the battlefield until the 3rd July, well after the battle had started.
I give herewith Benedek’s slightly abbreviated battle orders to the army:
From reports received, it appears that bodies of the enemy are near Nue Bydzow, Smidar, and Horitz. It appears probable that to–morrow an attack will be delivered upon the Saxon Corps, to meet which my orders are:-
The Saxon Corps will take post on the heights of Popowitz and Tresowitz, refusing the left wing, which will be covered by cavalry. A few advanced posts will be thrown out in front. The 1st Light Cavalry Division will select a suitable position a little behind the left wing, between Problus and Prim.
The 10th Corps will take post on the right of the Saxons. The 3rd Corps will be on the right of the 10th and will occupy the heights of Lipa and Chlum. The 8th Corps will support the Saxons and will place itself behind them.
Should the enemy’s attack be directed only against our left, the troops not named above will merely hold themselves in readiness to move; if, however, the attack should develop against our centre and right as well, the whole army will then take up the following positions:-
The 4th Corps will deploy on the right of the 3rd, on the high ground between Chlum and Nedelist; the 2nd Corps will take post on the right of the 4th and form the extreme right wing. The 2nd Light Cavalry Division will be in a position of readiness behind Nedelist. The 6th Corps will establish itself on the heights of Wsestar, and the 1st Corps on those of Rosnitz; both corps will be concentrated. The 1st and 3rd Reserve Cavalry Divisions will be at Sweti; the 2nd Reserve Cavalry Division at Briza.
If, however, the attack should become general. 1st and 6th Corps and the five cavalry divisions will form a central reserve at my own disposal. The whole army will be ready to fight to–morrow morning. The first troops to be attacked will inform the right and left, which will pass on the information.
The 8th Corps will leave its bivouacs at once and will send an officer to the Saxon head–quarters.
In case of necessity this officer will lead the 8th Corps to the required position behind the Saxons, but if there is no attack the corps will camp at Charbusitz.
I will be on the left flank unless the battle becomes general, when I will go to Chlum.
In conclusion, if the army is compelled to retreat the various corps will march by Holitz [south–east from Königgrätz] on Hohenmauth. The 2nd and 4th Corps will prepare bridges over the Elbe, the former between Lochenitz and Predmeritz, the latter near Placka. The engineers of the 1st Corps will immediately throw a bridge across the Adler at Swinra.
Benedek. Quoted in, Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 98 -100. For the full text of all orders and dispatches see: Prussian Official History, The Campaign of 1866 in Germany. … Continue reading
One does not have to be an expert in military history to see that these orders failed to deal with any threat against the Austrian right flank. This was not entirely Benedek’s fault, or maybe it was for he still allowed Krismanic to meddle in affairs, and it was that gentleman who proposed the disposition of the army, which just goes to show how out of touch the Commander–in–Chief was with the whole situation. As Wawro states ‘Krismanic should have considered the fact that he was disposing for battle generals accustomed to “march to the sound of the guns.” Since North Army was arrayed on a salient angle, it needed only one excited general to do this for the whole Austrian front to buckle. Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 215. Added to this was the fact that the Austrian semicircular position–with both of their flanks resting on the Elbe–left itself wide open to envelopment. Also their main line of retreat on the Gitschin–Königgrätz road could be easily cut by converging attacks. To add gloom to doom, the positioning of the Austrian cavalry deprived this “mobile” weapon of its latent potential. By deploying his light cavalry divisions in holding position on good ground well out on his right flank, dismounted and deployed, plus being backed–up by its well served artillery, the Austrians could have slowed down the advance of the Prussian Second Army, rather after the fashion of Union General John Buford on the first day at Gettysburg. The fact that Benedek considered the Prussian Second Army as offering no immediate threat, once again displays his ineptitude as an army commander.
The Field of Battle.
The battlefield of Königgrätz, particularly the area around the village of Chlum, had been visited by a Prussian army before. It was here that Frederick the Great’s army camped after defeating the Austrians at the battle of Hohenfriedberg on 4th June 1745. The fit and able battlefield rambler will obtain an excellent impression of how the terrain played its role in the battle by climbing the communication tower near Chlum, which has been constructed with a visitor viewing platform about three quarters of the way to the top, allowing for a fine panoramic view of the whole site. (see Dr Bob’s excellent photographs accompanying this article). The old iron battlefield viewing tower has now been demolished, but Lieutenant–Colonel Neill Malcolm’s description of what the field looked like from its top in 1912 is still very relevant to the views now obtainable from the new structure today:
‘From that point of vantage [the old tower] the viewer will find that he is standing as it were upon the outer rim of a plate or dish, from which the ground slopes gently in successive folds towards the centre of the semicircle at Königgrätz. A little more than two miles [3.2 kilometres] to his left, as he looks north–westward towards Sadowa–a tiny village almost indistinguishable were it not for a few Prussian graves–the church spire of Problus stands out prominently on the further side of a wide but shallow depression through which runs the road from Horitz to Königgräz, von Benedek’s main line of retreat. Southward of Problus the rim of the dish is formed by a line of wooded heights [now thinned out since 1866], which were held by the Saxons, through Ober Prim to Techlowitz [see map]. Due north of the observation tower and across another open depression in the Swiepwald [very much as it was in 1866], in which the bloodiest of the fighting took place, and a little to the east is the village of Maslowed [see map]. From Maslowed one spur of ground is thrust forth north–eastward towards Racitz, forming on its way the Horenowes Heights, upon which stand two conspicuous trees [since either fallen or cut down but replaced by fresh ones], a convenient point of direction for the advancing Prussians; a second spur leaves the village in a south–easterly direction and drops gradually towards the Elbe until it disappears in open country to the east of Nedelist. Behind this second spur yet another, but slightly lower ridge runs from Chlum towards Nedelist and the Elbe, and it was here that von Benedek’s right wing was posted on the morning of the 3rd July. From Königgrätz to Chlum the rise in the ground is considerable, but very gradual; so gradual that from the summit of the [tower] the country to south and south–east has the appearance of an unbroken, highly cultivated plain [see photographs]. In fact, however, there are many folds amply sufficient to conceal the movement of troops, but each successive rise becomes of less and less importance as the Elbe is neared. Beyond the outer rim of the plate or dish the exact reverse is the case. The ridge which runs south–eastwards from Chlum is commanded by the Maslowed–Nedelist spur, which, in turn, is dominated by the Horenowes, and in every case the outer slopes are steeper and bolder than the inner. Tactically the most difficult feature in von Benedek’s problem was the proper way of dealing with these successive ridges. His policy in standing to fight in front of the Elbe has been universally condemned, but it must be admitted that his position was naturally strong, had it been turned to full advantage. His field of fire was everywhere good, and behind his main line of defence his reserve troops could move with perfect freedom and in perfect concealment from side to side of the battlefield. His flanks were protected by the Trotina [River] and the Bistritz [River], and although a stretch of open country between these rivers offered an easy line of approach to the enemy, it was completely commanded by the Horenowes Heights. In their upper waters these two streams are quite insignificant, but as they near the Elbe they become serious military obstacles under any conditions, and at the time of the battle both were greatly swollen by recent rains. The enemy’s power of manoeuvre was, therefore, very much restricted, and in such a position the Duke of Wellington would have been at his best; but the chosen battlefield was entirely unfitted for that passive defence which was von Benedek’s conception of battle.’ Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 101 – 103. See Appendix discussion concerning Benedek’s battle plans.
Austrian and Saxon Artillery Positions and Battlefield Fortifications.
The placement of the Austrian army has been thought by many to indicate that Benedek was intending to go over to the offensive as soon as the opportunity arose and therefore this was why he–or rather he and the meddling Krismanic–choose them. At the position around the centrally fortified villages of Chlum and Lipa he placed 134 cannon and 42,000 men–III Corps under Archduke Ernest of Austria on the high ground to the north of the main highway with a brigade around Sadowa and Gablenz’s X Corps to its left again holding Langenhof and Stresetiz, with units pushed out at Dohalitz and Mokrowous–to the left again, holding the flank of the whole position were the Saxons, at Tresowitz and Popowitz, backed up by the VIII Corps, now under Major–General von Weber who had replaced Archduke Leopold, now on his way back to Vienna after his disaster at Skalitz, with 140 cannon and 38,000 men. The Austrian right wing was the Achilles Heel of their whole position being the place where the Prussian Second Army would make its appearance. The problem here was that the gun emplacements that had been constructed from Chlum to Nedelist were overlooked by the high ground further to the north at Maslowed and Horenowes, these heights also blocking the view of any advance by hostile forces. Benedek seemed oblivious to this factor and ordered Festetics IV Corps and von Thun–Hohenstadt’s II Corps–50,000 men and 176 cannon–to take post on the line Chlum, Nedelist, Lochenitz, with no strong outposts pushed out to the north to give warning of a possible enemy advance from that direction. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 100. I have reduced Craig’s troop numbers slightly, allowing for the attrition that had taken place during previous engagements.
With cavalry watching the flanks, (although not being pushed, on the right, far enough out to give adequate early warning of any enemy advance) Benedek placed Edelsheim’s 1st Light Cavalry Division near Ober Prim bolstering the Saxons, and Major–General Emerich Prince von Thurn und Taxis way out on the right at Nedelist. To the rear of these formations stood the Austrian reserves which, because of its very size, has been considered as Benedek’s “Mass of Decision;” consisting of I Corps under General Gondrecourt, replacing the disgraced Clam-Gallas, Ramming’s VI Corps, the three heavy cavalry divisions and the reserve artillery–42,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry with 320 cannon.
As well as Benedek’s orders for the positioning of his army on the battlefield, the various corps and brigade commanders would, following the various positions taken up by their units, occupy buildings, woods or hilltops, take it upon themselves, if they were worth their rank, to strengthen and fortify these natural strong points. Many farmhouses and cottages in the villages would have been loop holed and the tiles or thatch removed from rooves so that a greater volume of rifle fire could be concentrated on the attackers from the rooftops. One of the oldest battlefield devices for slowing down the enemy’s advance was the abatis, which consisted of the felling of trees and their tops then being cut off, about three meters in length, sharpened, then set forward in line facing the direction of the enemy’s approach; much of this work being inspected and ordered by the Chief of Imperial Engineers, Colonel von Pidoll who also had his hard labouring sappers digging infantry trenches, about chest deep, so that emplaced artillery could be supported. The Austrian artillery, as mentioned earlier, was of a high calibre, not only in material but also in its officers and gun crews. The Austrian Inspector–General of Artillery, Archduke William of Austria, another son of the redoubtable Archduke Charles–he was killed, ironically, while riding when his horse bolted after being frightened by an “electric car” in 1894–had made a detailed inspection of the battlefield, taking notes on ranges and fields of fire then carefully having them measured and marked so that his batteries could home–in on the advancing Prussians. The gun emplacements he had ordered constructed on the heights of Lipa and Chlum rose in tiers enabling them to bring fire on the crossing of the Bistritz at the Sadowa Bridge, as well as onto the low ground of the Dub valley that sloped down to the river. Craig. Gordon A. The Battle of Königgrätz, page 100.
No 1 was 1,400 paces north of the Church of Nedelist, at the junction of five roads; No 2, 1,500 paces north–west of the same point, on the declivity below Maslowed; No 3, 1,000 paces east of the northern end of Chlum, measured from the debouche of the main road through the village; No 4, to the west of this spot; and No 5, 500 paces from the western outlet of that village. Abatis were also constructed in the wood of Lipa, not far from battery No 4; there were two more batteries, which we shall call 6 and 7, for the protection of the southern skirts of the same point; and rifle trenches were dug in front of No 3, and on the flanks of Nos 1, 4, and 5. Indeed the wood of Lipa may be said to have been thoroughly protected, and the protracted resistance encountered here by the First Prussian Army fully justified the prudence of these measures. The heights of Horinowes [sic], and the line of the Trotina were left entirely without artificial defence, and the efficacy of the more important batteries above–mentioned was completely neutralized by subsequent events.Colonel von Pidoll’s defensive works, planned and begun on 1st July, are detailed in Colonel Beauchamp Walker’s fascinating little work The Battle of Königgrätz, published in 1869–Military Attaché in Berlin, and accompanying the Second Prussian Army during the 1866 campaign–he rode the battlefield “after” the battle and therefore had a first hand knowledge of the main Austrian emplacements:
Very little was done on the left wing. The only work of importance was a battery for twelve guns, which the Saxon Commander–in–Chief had caused to be thrown up at Hradek, overlooking the village of Lubno. So much time had been expended in the defences of Chlum and Lipa, which in addition to the more complete works above mentioned, had been strengthened by the usual measures adopted for defence of villages, that the works around Problus were only commenced after the beginning of the action, and confined to placing that village and Nieder Prim in a state of hasty defence, and in the construction of abatis on the western flanks of the wood between Ploblus and Charbustiz. Strange to say neither of the bridges at Nechanitz or Sadowa were blown up. Walker. Colonel Beauchamp, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 11 – 12.
Needless to say, the time and effort consumed in building the defences at Chlum and Lipa, leave one with the feeling that much of this work was unnecessary, and that more attention would have been better lavished on the right flank. As already stated, the Austrian light cavalry should have been deployed in a wide screen far out on the right thereby giving adequate warning of the approach of the Second Prussian Army. The simple construction of an observation post on Horenowes Hill, either high up in the branches of a tree, or in the form of a raised platform upon which were mounted powerful telescopes, would also have given early warning of the enemy’s advance. The argument that the weather was so foggy that a clear view was unattainable is negated by the fact that The Times correspondent, W.H. Russell, using either a powerful glass of binoculars, was able to view the Austrian army in its battle positions from a tower in Königgrâtz some five kilometres distant. See Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrâtz, page 102.
The Battle 3rd July, Morning.
The night and early morning of 3rd July was chilly and wet, a driving rain having set in since midnight. The troops of both armies having bivouacked in the open were stiff and cold, and there was scant time for cooking a meal. Old soldiers amongst the ranks on both sides had taken the precaution of covering their rifle barrels and locks together with their percussion caps and ammunition to keep them as dry as possible, but many of the younger recruits, if not instructed to protect their weapons in similar fashion and, in some cases–particularly due to the language problems within the mixed races of the Austrian army–these troops were not always properly informed, causing quite a few misfires and accompanying multilingual curses before the problem was resolved. In snake like columns the opposing armies trudged through the downpour towards their battle positions.
By 4:00 a.m. the Prussian Army of the Elbe and First Army were in motion, with General Eduard von Fransecky, his field cap and oilskin cape dripping with water, urging his 7th Division towards Cerekwitz, out on the Prussian far left flank. In the centre General Heinrich Fredrick von Horn’s 8th Division headed for Klenitz marching through the wet corn and barley. The 3rd and 4th Divisions under Generals von Werder and von Herwarth respectively, also with only open countryside to negotiate, crisscrossed by mud churned farm tracks, stumbled through the matted crops towards Dohalitz and Markrowous. On the 3rd Divisions right the combined Cavalry Corps marked time in the sodden fields around Sucha; while to their right again, at about 2 kilometres distance, the three divisions of the Army of the Elbe marched on Nechanitz. Although progress was slow, the artillery limbers and wagons in particular becoming tangled and mired among the wet corn and soft ground, by 5:00 a.m. the 3rd, 4th, and 8th Divisions were in position to the rear of the high ground at Dub, the 7th approaching the village of Benatek, with the 5th and 6th Divisions coming up behind the centre in reserve. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 105.
The sound of gunfire became audible as Benedek rode out from Königgrätz at around 8:00 a.m., reaching Lipa before nine o’clock. Soon after his arrival a staff officer from Crown Prince Albert came cantering up with a request for his approval to occupy the heights at Prim and Problus rather than the original high ground at Tresowitz and Popowitz as originally ordered, so as more effectively to lay down fire upon the approaches from Nechanitz. Regarding the young prince’s judgment as being military sound Benedek gave it his approval. A second shift in position, however, was to have more serious consequences, and came at a time when the Austrian Commander–in–Chief was otherwise distracted by the arrival of his new Chief–of–Staff, Major General Alois von Baumgarten.
This alteration was due to the Chief–of–Staff of the Austrian IV Corps, Colonel von Görz, who pointed out to Festetics that where the original orders had placed the corps, between Chlum and Nedelist, was likely to become untenable if the Prussians occupied the heights of Maslowed, which overlooked them from the north and therefore would enable them to effectively smother the whole position with enfilading artillery fire. He urged that the corps should move forward and take possession of the Maslowed heights themselves, a suggestion to which Festetics readily concurred. His enthusiasm for the move was such that he also took it upon himself to send Görz to see if he could tempt Count Karl Thun von Hohenstein to move his II Corps into line beside the IV, thus consolidating the new position. Thun was willing to comply since his original instructions from Krismanic were, to say the least, fairly vague, stating only that II Corps was merely to keep in line with the IV. Soon the whole mass was marching to the new position facing west which, if the ground had been prepared beforehand for defence, would certainly have proved preferable to their original allotted posts. The problem was that neither Thun nor Festetics bothered to consider the naked northern flank they had left exposed by their combined move, and now covered only by Thun’s Henriquez Brigade and the 6th Uhlan Regiment–a tissue paper thin screen subject to being pierced.
With his attention being distracted by the hubbub that was occurring at his battlefield headquarters due to the dismissal of Krismanic and the arrival of Baumgarten, coupled with the bland and unhelpful input submitted by Henikstein, Benedek became unnecessarily distracted from giving his full attention to rectifying Festetics and Thuns repositioning, besides which the sporadic barking of artillery that had heralded his journey to the front had now grown into a continuous cannonade as the fight along the little Bistriz River began developing. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 103.
The Crossing of the Bistritz River.
At around 6:00 a.m. Prince Frederick Charles and his entourage reined in their horses on the high ground near the village of Dub. On the misty heights across the river from them was arrayed the might of Imperial Austria. Even allowing for the historical “der Nebel von Chlum,” (the mist or fog of Chlum, which brings to mind the famous “Sun of Austerliz,” except that on that battlefield it was indeed the fog and not the sun that had aided a French victory) the view across the river failed to faze either the Prussian Prince or his Chief–of–Staff which, however, they both were only to claim much later, possibly with the benefit of hindsight? Whatever was thought, the sight that greeted them must have been one that would stir even the most imperturbable of personalities. Craig gives us a very good impression what met their eyes, quoting from The Times newspaper’s correspondent who was attached to First Army headquarters:
A person standing this morning on top of the ridge [of Dub] saw Sadowa below him, built of wooden cottages, surrounded by orchards, and could distinguish among its houses several water mills; but these were not at work, for all the inhabitants of the village had been sent away, and a white coat here and there among the cottages was not a peasants blouse, but was an Austrian soldier; There are some interesting but, unfortunately, unsubstantiated details of the Austrian “white” infantry uniform, which was abolished after 1866. All sources and paintings show the infantry … Continue reading three–quarters of a mile down the Bistritz a big red house, with a high brick chimney beside it, looked like a factory, and some large wooden buildings alongside it were unmistakably warehouses; close to these a few wooden cottages, probably meant for the workers employed at the factory, completed the village of Dohalitz. A little more than a mile further down the Bistritz stood the village of Mokrowous, like most Bohemian villages, built of pinewood cottages enclustered in orchard trees…. Behind Dohalitz and between that village and the high road which runs through Sadowa, there lies a large thick wood; many of the trees had been cut down about ten feet above the ground and the cut down branches had been twisted together between the standing trunks of the trees that were nearest to the river to make an entrance into the wood from the front extremely difficult. On the open slope (behind Dohalitz) there seemed to run a dark dotted line of stumpy bushes, but the telescope showed that these were guns, and that this battery alone contained twelve pieces. Looking to the left, up the course of the Bistritz, the ground was open between the orchards of Sadowa and the trees that grow around Benatek, a little village about two miles above Sadowa, which marked the extreme right of the Austrian position, except where, midway between these villages, a broad belt of firewood runs for three–quarters of a mile. Above and beyond these villages and woods the spire of Lipa was seen… and above that waited the massed power of Austria. Altogether a formidable prospect! Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 106.
At around 7:30 a.m. the plodding columns of the Prussian First Army came under fire from Austrian batteries ranged from Maslowed to Lipa, the advance guard of the Horn’s 8th Division attacking Sadowa while on their right the forward units of Herwarth’s 4th Division came in against Unter–Dohalitz with Werder’s 3rd Division putting pressure on Mokrowous. Out on the left, which would effectively be “in the air” until the arrival of the Second Army, Franseky’s 7th Division, after wading the Bistritz began exchanging fire with the Austrian forward units in the village of Benatek.
Movements of the Army of the Elbe.
The seven battalion advance guard of the Army of the Elbe, under Major General von Schöler, passed through Kobilitz at 6:30 a.m. then pressed on to Nechanitz, which they found occupied by the Saxon 7th and 8th Battalions of Division Schimpff who, after a brief exchange of fire, began to retire, attempting, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to set fire to the bridge–why this important crossing had not been ordered to be destroyed beforehand once again shows up Benedek’s incompetence. The fire was soon extinguished by the Fusilier Battalion of the 28th Regiment and repairs to the damage made good by throwing two large farm gates over the burnt sections, thereafter the 28th Regiment pressed on across the river, despite being taken under fire from the Saxon Battery Zenker, taking post on the rising ground south of Lubno while the Saxons withdrew slowly and in good order to their main positions on the heights of Prim and Problus. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 109 – 110.
To the left of the Fusiliers of the 28th Regiment the Fusilier Battalion of the 17th Regiment had crossed the Bistritz at Komarow, having to remove their boots and trousers in order to wade across the almost four feet deep river in their drawers, holding their rifles and equipment above their heads. After sliding about trying to get a footing while climbing the muddy banks on the other side, they finally managed to sort themselves out and were shortly joined by the 8th Jäger Battalion under Major von Zierold, together the two units advanced to attack Lubno, which was still held by the Saxon 9th Battalion, who gave the wet legged Prussians a warm reception, only retiring to their main line when two companies of the 28th Fusiliers joined in the attack on the village, the 17th Fusiliers alone suffering the loss of three officers and eighty men killed or wounded. Prussian Official History: The Campaign of 1866 in Germany. Department of Military History of the Prussian General Staff. Translated by Colonel von Wright and Captain M. Hozier, page 188.
Downriver from Alt–Nechanitz, the 2nd Battalion of the 33rd Regiment found the foot bridges at Steiskal destroyed and the ground along the riverbank a complete marshland, they also came under fire from the stud–farm (Gestüte) across the river which was occupied by Saxon infantry. Leaving a company deployed on their side of the river returning fire on the farm, the remainder of the battalion moved on Kuncitz, which was also defended by two companies of the 11th Saxon Battalion. Here they managed to repair the partially destroyed foot bridge, their concentrated fire forcing the enemy to make a fighting withdrawal through the deer park of Hradek Castle back to their main position at Neu–Prim. Following them on towards the castle the 2nd Battalion was reinforced by the 2nd Battalion of the 56th Regiment sent to their aid by Major von Thielau. Ibid, page 188 – 189. Here the Prussian advance ran out of steam, with General Herwarth von Bittenfeld stubbornly refusing to press the attack until all his forces were across the river. At around 10:45 a.m. the forward units of the Army of the Elbe were as follows:
On the right wing near Hradek:
- Two battalions of the 33rd and 56th Regiments.
In the centre, on the high ground extending from Hradek towards Lubno:
- The 9th and 10th Companies of the 28th Regiment.
- The 1st Battalion of the 40th Regiment.
- The Fusilier Battalion of the 69th Regiment.
- Two Batteries of artillery (Captains Wolff and Pilgrim)
To the rear of this high ground:
- Ten squadrons of Hussars (Count Goltz)
- A Battery of Horse Artillery (Captain Fuchsius)
On the left wing, in and near Lubno:
- The 11th and 12th Companies of the 28th Regiment.
- The Fusilier Battalion of the 17th Regiment.
- The 8th Jäger Battalion. The Prussian Official History: The Campaign of 1866 in Germany, Department of Military History of the Prussian General Staff. Translated by Colonel von Wright and Captain M. Hozier, page 189.
Movements of the First Army.
On the Prussian First Army front at around 7:45 a.m., loud cheers had rippled down the columns of marching men as the King and his oversized suite, including Moltke and Bismarck, arrived at Dub, the appearance of so numerous a group of mounted men drawing the fire of an Austrian battery across the river, which dropped a shell only twenty paces from where the King was stationed. While attempting to calm their prancing and rearing mounts another shell plunged into the ranks of the Uhlan escort squadron, killing and wounding men and horses, the King and his suit being forced to disperse. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 107 – 108.
Moltke, suffering from a heavy head cold, fully realised that no help could be expected from the Second Army for at least three or four hours, nevertheless he made up his mind to keep the pressure on Benedek’s position and contain him until such time that the Crown Prince should arrive to settle the issue. He was also well aware of the fact that “should” the Austrian commander decide to go over to the offensive he would be outnumbered and outgunned, but that was a risk that he was willing to face, given the fact that in that event it would be the Prussians who held the river line as a defensive obstacle. Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 218.
Around the village of Sadowa the advance guard of Horn’s 8th Division had taken on the defending Austrian Brigade Prohaska, which soon withdrew before being outflanked by Prussian units advancing through the wood just behind the village. Further to the right at Unter–Dohalitz the 4th Division cleared the village at around 9:45 a.m., and still further down the river at Mokrowous, von Werder’s 3rd Division came into action, taking casualties from the retiring Austrian Jäger battalions who, because of the smoke and murky conditions, poured a blind but heavy fire into the advancing Prussian companies. Having cleared the village however Werder was now stalled for the next four hours by the volume fire delivered from the high ground at Langenhof and Lipa where seventeen Austrian artillery batteries were dug in, belonging to the III and X Corps, in all 126 guns. Even though only a percentage of these guns gave their attention to von Werder’s division, these were still sufficient to blow apart any attempt on the part of the Prussians to advance. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 111.
Away out on the First Army left flank Lieutenant General von Fransecky’s 7th Division, after passing through Cerekwitz, had occupied Benatek prior to advancing on Cistowes and the Sweipwald wood. Born in 1807, Fransecky was very well regarded for his administrative and scholarly duties, being one time lecturer on tactics at the Allgemeine Kriegsschule and director of the historical section of the Prussian General Staff. He had also been in the employ of the Grand Duke of Oldenburg, spending some years reforming the ducal army together with its staff and schooling system. In 1864 he was given command of the 7th Division in Magdeburg. However, his fighting experience was very limited, having never commanded either a company or a battalion in action; the combat at Münchengrätz being the first time he had ever led troops into battle. His role in the decisive battle of the war would prove his worth as one of Prussia’s finest combat generals. Ibid, page 116.Around the village of Sadowa the advance guard of Horn’s 8th Division had taken on the defending Austrian Brigade Prohaska, which soon withdrew before being outflanked by Prussian units advancing through the wood just behind the village. Further to the right at Unter–Dohalitz the 4th Division cleared the village at around 9:45 a.m., and still further down the river at Mokrowous, von Werder’s 3rd Division came into action, taking casualties from the retiring Austrian Jäger battalions who, because of the smoke and murky conditions, poured a blind but heavy fire into the advancing Prussian companies. Having cleared the village however Werder was now stalled for the next four hours by the volume fire delivered from the high ground at Langenhof and Lipa where seventeen Austrian artillery batteries were dug in, belonging to the III and X Corps, in all 126 guns. Even though only a percentage of these guns gave their attention to von Werder’s division, these were still sufficient to blow apart any attempt on the part of the Prussians to advance. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 111.
Fransecky, possibly more than any other general on the field, grasped Moltke’s intentions to the full–to keep the enemy occupied until the Second Army arrived on the field. At 7:15 a.m. he had already sent Lieutenant Count von Hohenthal, his ordnance officer, to make contact with the closest units of the Crown Prince’s army and to inform him that he was going into action against the village of Benatek thereafter, at around 8:00 a.m. he received orders from First Army Headquarters to co–ordinate his movements with Horn’s 8th Division on his right and to use his own judgement in conducting operations as he saw fitting: on hearing the 8th Divisions artillery going into action against Sadowa he sent another message to the Second Army that he was now moving to attack and that support would be needed as soon as available for his exposed left. Even though this message was promptly complied with upon its receipt by the Guard Corps, Fransecky’s division was still left on its own for several gruelling hours to do some of the heaviest and costliest fighting of the whole battle. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 117.
After clearing the village of Benatek of its defenders, Fransecky’s four battalion advanced guard belonging to Major General von Schwarzhoff’s 13th Brigade, under Colonel von Zychlinski, were about to press on when the Colonel’s attention was drawn to the wood on his left flank, in which large enemy forces were stationed. Zychlinski immediately sent word to Fransecky who was in the process of organizing the march of the rest of his division. Upon receiving the news he galloped forward and, after scanning the woods with his field glasses, ordered a halt while the remainder of the 13th Brigade came forward together with Major General von Gordon’s 14th Brigade. Once consolidated Gordon was ordered to attack the wood. Ibid, page 117. See also
The Sweipwald (now called the Svib Wood, but also called in some sources the Wood of Wobora and Wood of Maslowed) measures roughly 1700 meters long (east to west) and 800 meters wide (north to south) It was, much as now, of mixed tall deciduous trees, some coniferous and scrub oak together with, here and there, dense patches of undergrowth. It is spread across a ridge, the steepest gradient facing to the north. Its look is deceptive from the exterior, but inside it is cut up by several undulating ridges, a track running along one of these becoming known after the battle as the ‘Alley of the Dead.’
The wood was held by the brigade of Major–General von Brandenstein (IV Corps), after Festetic’s change of position, consisting of two battalions of the 12th Regiment (Archduke William) and the 27th Jäger Battalion on the northern fringe, the 3rd Battalion of 12th Regiment, together with two battalions of the 26th Regiment (Grand Duke Michael) taking station on the south western edge. The brigade artillery battery and the guns of Appiano’s brigade around Cistowes covered the field from that direction, while another 40 cannon were combing the ground from Maslowed.
At close to 8:30 a.m. General Helmuth von Gordon’s 14th Brigade, consisting of the 27th and 67th Regiments went in hard against the wood, while the main body of the 7th Division moved into a sheltered depression in the fields to the north of the village of Benatek, which was now burning furiously. Gordon himself led the two musketeer battalions of the 27th Regiment on the left, while Colonel Franz Friedrich von Zychlinski took charge of the fusilier battalion of the 27th Regiment and fusilier battalion of the 66th Regiment (13th Brigade) on the right, forcing Brandenstein’s brigade to retire and killing its commander. Pushing on through the woods Zychlinski moved to attack the village of Cistowes but soon came under such a punishing fire from Appiano’s defending brigade (Archduke Ernst III Corps), together with their artillery supports posted near the village, that Zychlinski fell wounded and his troops momentum stalled as two battalions from the 62nd Infantry Regiment (Archduke Henry) and the 4th Jäger Battalion delivered a spirited counter attack, which was only just contained within the smoke choked wood thanks to support arriving from the two musketeer battalions of 66th Regiment of Major General von Schwarzhoff’s 13th Brigade. This fresh injection of manpower and firepower once more enabled the Prussians to drive their assailants back through the wood, which by this time was already becoming carpeted with dead and wounded, and push on to attempt to clear Cistowes of its defenders, in the process reducing Brandenstein’s brigade to a mere shadow of its former strength, causing the remnants to be withdrawn from the fighting front. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 117 – 118. The commander of the 7th Divisions 13th Brigade, Major General von Schwarzhoff, receives little attention in any source material. … Continue reading
Dismounting to scrutinise the situation for himself from the high ground near Maslowed, Festetics zeroed his field glasses onto the boil of smoke accumulating around the village of Cistowes and the seeping treetops of the Swiepwald. Having just received the tidings that one of his brigades had been knocked out of the battle he was in no mood to allow things to go unpunished. This would by no means be a difficult task, especially with the Prussian left flank being anchored on fresh air. But true to form the bewhiskered weasel eyed commander of the IV Corps, rather than conducting a skilful outflanking manoeuvre, choose to butt on straight ahead, throwing restraint and military judgement out the window, together with the lives of thousands of men. At just after 9:30 a.m. he ordered two more brigades, those of Colonel Emerich von Fleischacker and Colonel von Poeckh, to drive the Prussians from the village and wood, their attack being preceded by pouring in a massive artillery barrage from 80 cannon stationed on the Maslowed heights to soften up the opposition. Just as these guns bucked into action, a few Prussian batteries began to engage them in counter battery fire, one of their shells exploding near Festetics, blowing off part of his foot and killing Görz his Chief–of –Staff. As the bleeding and white faced commander was being carried to the rear, Lieutenant General Anton Freiherr Mollinary, his assistant, took charge of the corps. Rather than questioning or altering Festetics rash attack orders Mollinary–showing little attributes for tactics–not only confirmed the order but sent an orderly over to Lieutenant–Field Marshal Count Thun asking for support from the II Corps. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 119.
Colonel Fleischacker’s brigade contained some of the toughest fighting men in the Austrian army. Although their fighting qualities were greatly respected their political sympathies were regarded with a somewhat jaundiced eye by the powers that be in Vienna. Recruited in the ancient frontier province of Banat, the regiments were something akin to the Tower of Babel when it came to their ethnic language and makeup, containing Serbs, Hungarians, Romani, Croats, Bulgarians, Slovaks, Czechs and Romanians. It was said that rather than trying to teach each new recruit to understand his military orders and training in German, it was far easier to find out first if he had any skills in the handling of firearms, which most of them had being mainly brought up in the countryside, then just go through the various drills by showing him how they were performed, thereafter non-commissioned officers of Slavic origin could usually manage to instil basic training and make him understand orders barked–out in German.
Fleischacker’s Brigade needed no tuition when it came to fighting. The 6th Infantry Regiment (Coronini) and the 61st Infantry Regiment (Czarevitch of Russia), together with the 13th Jäger Battalion went in with flags waving, drums beating and horns blowing, clearing the Prussians out of Cistowes and pushing them back into the Sweipwald. Now, once again, rather than trying to outflank their objective the troops came on in battalion columns and, as had happened on numerous occasions before, they were decimated by the rapid fire of the needle gun as they entered the wood. Nothing daunted, Fleischacker reformed his brigade for a fresh attack, as Poeckh’s brigade came up in support. At this stage of the struggle Fransecky had six Prussian battalions in the wood opposed to twenty eight battalions of Austrians; these would soon be joined by two more from VIII Corps, plus fourteen more now on their way from IV Corps. In artillery it was even worse, the Austrians had now bought ninety six guns into action on this part of the field, literally plastering the wood and surrounding countryside in shot and shell, the shrapnel raining down through the trees showing no respect for branches or human limbs. To this hurricane of metal the Prussians could reply with only eighteen cannon. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866. Page 318.
At 10:00 a.m.Colonel von Poeckh’s brigade, consisting of the 37th Infantry Regiment (Archduke Joseph), 51st Infantry Regiment (Archduke Ferdinand) and the 8th Jäger Regiment, after allowing Fleischaker’s brigade to clear from their front went hard into the Swiepwald driving Fransecky’s dwindling battalions before them; soon after turning northwest in their closed half–battalion columns, with no skirmisher line out in front, their formations began to unravel among the close growing timber. It was here that they were hit by two fresh battalions of Prussian’s, sent to reinforce Fransecky’s hard pressed fighting line from Horn’s 8th Division. The Austrian General Staff’s battle report “Österreich Kämpfe im Jahre 1866”states that the brigade was on a downward slope pushing the enemy to the very edge of the wood, Colonel Poeckh out in front. Suddenly “…on a tree covered hill on their right they were assailed by masses of Prussians who opened a murderous fire to which the now disorganised brigade could not respond. Here the brigade suffered its greatest losses, the Colonel and all his staff except General Staff Captain Klobus were either killed or wounded. Klobus rushed back to bring up support, and had to break out through enemy lines, his horse being killed in the process. Meanwhile, the situation in this part of the wood became unsustainable. Encircled on every side, the troops had no alternative but to try and fight their way out. Fighting, at times hand–to–hand, the wounds of the survivors showing sword cuts and bayonet stabs, the remnant finally broke through. Öesterreichs Kämpfe, III, 292 ff. There are several versions of the official Austrian documents. I have used Craig and the English translation on the visitor board at the site itself. The losses were appalling. Poeckh brigade had numbered around 4,000 men when they entered the fight, only 1,800 shaken and shattered troops withdrew from the corpse strewn woods, many of these wounded in mind as well as in body.
It was now close to 11:00 a.m. and despite having had two brigades decimated, Mollinary was still determined to press on with his costly assaults. Fransecky, for his part, after having his horse shot out from under him, still moved from battalion to battalion encouraging his sweat and powder–caked men, but even he began to wonder, since the Austrian attacks were showing no signs of abating, how much longer he could hold on. At this time one of the King’s adjutants, Lieutenant–Colonel Karl Walther Freiherr von Loë, came galloping up on a lathered horse to find out what the situation was like and was informed by Fransecky that he was rapidly being reduced both in manpower and ammunition, but that he would hang on to the last man. Visibly shaken by what he had seen around him and the much reduced state of the 7th Division’s battalions, Loë returned to Royal Headquarters informing the King that he considered it necessary to send Fransecky reinforcements immediately. While the King was mulling this over Moltke, showing a stern but respectful demeanour, stated in no uncertain terms that: ‘I must seriously advise Your Majesty to send General Fransecky not a single man of infantry support. Until the Crown Prince had begun his attack, which is the only thing that can bring help to the general, we must be on the look-out for an Austrian offensive. We will beat it back as long as we have III Army Corps [in reserve] at our disposal. We have already sent Count Bismarck’s Cavalry Brigade to help him, and Lieutenant–Colonel von Loë must have seen it. In any case, I know General Fransecky, and I know that he will stand firm.’ The hard pressed 7th Division was on its own. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 120 – 121. See also Wawro’s remarks, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, concerning the Austrians … Continue reading
On Fransecky’s right Horn’s 8th Division, after placing his artillery on the high ground around the village of Sowetitz and clearing Sadowa of the defending Austrian Brigade Prohaska, crossed the Bistritz virtually unopposed. After consolidating his hold on Sadowa village, Horn ordered his 15th Brigade under Major–General von Bose, consisting of the 31st and 71st Infantry Regiments to take the Holawald woods, to the south of the main Königgrätz highway. The wood covered some 1,200 square meters and was made up of oak, beech and conifer, quite closely planted and carpeted with dense undergrowth. These conditions caused Bose’s troops to become dispersed as they pushed on into the trees, but fortunately were met with little resistance, the few companies of Austrians defending being content to retire and allow the Prussians to enter their prepared killing zone. And that is just what Bose’s men encountered when they reached the further edge of the wood. Here, as had occurred to Werder’s 3rd Division down river at Mokrowous, they drew the attention of the massed Austrian artillery batteries along the heights of Lipa towards Stresetiz, the fire from these guns covering the exit from the wood with such a storm of metal that some eight or ten detonations and explosions came every few seconds, since it was artillery practice to have each battery fire their guns in sequence down the line of their emplacements, thus keeping up a continuous and crippling rate of fire. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866. See also, concerning Napoleonic artillery, Burbeck. James, The War Times Journal: Firepower Comes of … Continue reading Being well aware that the advance was not to be pressed too far, the 8th Division commander ordered his troops to take what shelter they could among the trees in the Holawold and the village of Ober–Dohalitz, but as one soldier recounted later: ‘ We looked for cover but where was one to find it in this kind of fire! The bombshells crashed through the clay walls as if through cardboard; and, finally, raking fire set the village on fire. We withdrew to the left, into the woods, but it was no better there. Jagged hunks of wood and big tree splinters flew around our heads. At last a kind of apathy came over us. We pulled out our watches and kept count. I was standing by the flag. Inside of ten seconds, four bombshells and one shrapnel shell exploded right in front of us. When shrapnel explodes in the air, it rattles down on the ground like hailstones, and in the sky a beautiful smoke ring rises, getting bigger all the time, till it disappears. I saw all that. We all felt we were in God’s hands.’ Fontane. Theodor, Der deutsche Krieg von 1866 (2 vols., Berlin, 1871 – 720. Quoted in, Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 113 – 114. That the pounding was severe was confirmed by a member of the Order of the Knight of St. John who crossed the battlefield the following day and wrote later how troops who had been exposed to such fire were often driven to attempt to get to grips with their tormentors. Inside the Holowald wood and across the clear area of ground just outside its farther edge he noted that, ‘The grain fields and great stretches of sugar beets were trampled and covered in dead. One saw Prussian corpses lying within three hundred paces of the [Austrian] battery position.’ Ibid, page 114.
The 4th Division, after clearing Ober–Dohalitz also drew the attention of the Austrian massed batteries, the troops having to take what shelter they could, either in the folds of the ground or behind whatever solid cover was otherwise available. Major General von Schlabrendorff, the 7th Brigade commander (the 4th Division contained only one brigade), moved among his men encouraging them with words and gestures, but even so words could not prevent casualties and although not suffering quite so much as Horn’s 8th Division the heavy concentration of enemy fire still took its toll.
Offensive or Defensive? Benedek’s Dilemma.
At Austrian battlefield headquarters situated around a dairy near Lipa, coffee had been served at 11:00 a.m. Some of the staff remained standing while others took their beverage still mounted, but the Feldzeugmeister had seated himself at a small fold–down table and was quietly sipping the warm refreshment as he studied reports coming in from the front. Colonel Adolf Catty, Chief–of–Staff of Archduke Ernst’s III Corps, after dismounting and respectfully awaiting Benedek’s acknowledgment of his presence, informed him that Mollinary’s brigades were now stationed ahead, and to the right of the III Corps in the correct military troop echelon of oblique order ready to attack the exposed Prussian left flank, had the time come to strike? Benedek, rising from his seat, shook his head in the negative. For Mollinary’s part he had already asked for cavalry assistance from Major General Prince Thurn und Taxis’s Second Light Cavalry Division, in preparation for the planned counterattack that would sweep Franseky’s weakened division from the field and roll up the whole Prussian position, but upon being informed of these arrangements an enraged Benedek promptly cancelled all preparations for any forward movement, and also sent instructions that IV Corps and II Corps should return to their original positions, this causing Mollianary to quit his command post at Maslowed and ride over to Benedek’s headquarters in an attempt to argue the case for acting immediately. Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 227 – 228.
This was the critical period of the battle for both sides. With the depleted and weary state of the Fransecky’s battalions dangling in mid air out on the Prussian left flank, plus the fire from the Austrian massed artillery containing the other enemy units in the valley of the Bistritz, it is quite conceivable that, with his massive reserve Benedek’s best option at this time was to have gone over to the offensive. Whether this would have given Austria a victory is debateable, given the time that would have been needed to form for the attack, as well as having to prepare for the possible arrival of the Prussian Second Army. To have driven straight ahead would have been disastrous and would have brought on a situation of the flanker being out–flanked. Allowing for the fact that no intervention by the Prussian Second Army had been as yet contemplated, Count Thun’s II Corps and Mollinary’s IV Corps, by throwing their weight against Fransecky would have found themselves caught between two fires. It is obvious, given what Moltke himself had anticipated, that any enemy counter attack would be met and contained along the shallows of the Bistritz. Most of the Prussian First Army’s cannon were still on the right bank, and the reserve 5th and 6th Divisions could have stiffened the flank and centre still allowing the Crown Prince to perform a similar task to the one he actually carried out. Mollinary seems to have been carried away by the idea of rolling up the Prussian line, so much so that he made no effort to protect his own now exposed right flank.
Wawro tells us that, ‘Mollinary would later be criticized for his excessive zeal at Königgrätz, but he was plainly on the verge of carrying the day. By 12 noon, the Prussians had managed to mount just 40 guns on the left bank of the Bystice [sic], providing scant artillery cover for the demoralized remnants of their 3rd and 4th Divisions, who flattened themselves against the valley floor and prayed for deliverance as shells screamed in at them from Bystice [sic] heights.’ Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 228. With the boot on the other foot, what would the Austrian battalion columns have suffered as they, in their turn, descended from their prepared positions and came under the concentrated fire of the needle gun the 40 guns on the left bank, together with the majority of Prussian artillery batteries still on the right bank? Also, because of Herwarth von Bittenfeld’s dilatory behaviour, he still had almost two full divisions of the Elbe Army on the left bank of the Bistritz and their fire power, together with the reserve 5th and 6th Divisions of the First Army, so well husbanded by Moltke, would have proved devastating.
After pleading the case that now was the moment for a concerted counterattack, what took place next certainly shows, if completely factual, the Feldzuegmeister lack of confidence in himself when it came to strong leadership; as Mollinary wrote in his memoirs, ‘Having listened to my argument Benedek turned to the artillery commander, Archduke Wilhelm, with the question, “Does your Imperial Highness think the moment for an offensive movement is come?” ‘What I saw and heard,’ continues Mollinary, ‘appeared like a bad dream. I first could not believe my senses; then deep depression overcame me at the sight of the helplessness and indecision in which, at so grave a moment I beheld in the man in whose hands lay Austria’s fate’ In view of this state of mind I had to give up all hope that any practical dispositions would be taken for the shaping of the hot and disastrous fight, already lasting over four hours. It became clear to me that only one movement was now permitted, in fact, dictated–an immediate retreat.’ Field – Marshal Baron Anton Freiherr Mollinary, Sechsundvierzig Jahre im Oesterrich – un garishchen Herre, 1833 – 1879.K.U.K. Feldzeugmeister. Varlay Art. Institut Orell Füschi. Zurich, 1905. … Continue reading
The Progress of the Prussian Second Army.
The royal retinue at Dub anxiously kept looking at their time pieces; the Prussian King nervously asking Moltke how he considered the battle was going, to which he received the reply, ‘Your Majesty will today win not only the battle but the campaign.’ Whether the King thought this remark comforting or irritating we are not informed, but Moltke, like a professional poker player, liked to keep his hand close to his chest. In another instance when Bismarck, also concerned about the outcome of the battle rode over to consult the Chief–of–Staff and offered Moltke a cigar from his case, he was pleasingly reassured when he saw him pick out one of the best it contained.  Craig. Gordon A. The Battle of Königgrätz, page 122. This latter event, if true, is quite puzzling. Did Bismarck carry a selection of good and poor quality cigars in his case, maybe hoping that the so–so ones would be chosen by the less discerning smoker? Whatever the reassurances the fears concerning the fate of the battle were real with casualties mounting and everyone looking anxiously for the arrival of the Second Army.
The Crown Prince and General Blumenthal were on the road with their forward units at 7:30 a.m. on the morning of the 3rd July, the Crown Prince not actually expecting to see any action during the day, as he wrote:
At this hour I joined the Guard Corps, and with them made the excessively heavy march, in pouring rain, over the steep banks of the Elbe and the mountains lying to the back of it. The paths were obliterated, which terribly hindered the advance of all the regiments, and made the march difficult to a degree. I did not believe in the possibility of a big engagement, because I was of the opinion that the Austrians would not attempt to give battle, with their backs to the Elbe. Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia, Diaries, page 36. Quoted in, Barry.Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz:Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 327.
For the rest of the Second Army the march orders were issued subject to the temperament of the various commanders. As soon as the messenger from the beleaguered Fransecky arrived in Dobrawitz at 8:30 a.m., stating that the 7th Division was in desperate need of help having it left flank in the air, Major General Konstantin von Alvensleben, commanding the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Guard Division took it upon himself to order the immediate advance towards Jericek without informing army headquarters. General Bonin’s First Corps, on the other hand, at Praussnitz, saw no need for haste, preferring to await direct orders from the Crown Prince himself, and it was well after 9:00 a.m. that the man who had failed at Trautenau finally got his troops on the road, the Fifth and Sixth Corps pushing on an hour before. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Köiniggrätz, page 125. Alvensleben sent a messenger ahead to inform Fransecky that help was on the way and his advance guard, despite the state of the roads, made good time, arriving at Jericek at around 11:00 a.m., with the rest of 1st Guard Brigade close behind. The 11th Division together with its artillery had reached Litic at about 10:00 a.m., and there it deployed in two lines, continuing the march straight across country as far as the confluence of the Trotina and Trotinka streams. Here there was a bridge, but because of the need for haste only the artillery and a few infantry battalions were allocated its use, the rest of the division either wading across or tottering over a hastily built bridge constructed out of large beams taken from a nearby barn, the whole division reaching the high ground north of Racitz, where it came under fire from Austrian batteries. The 12th Division was then approaching the Horicka Berg, east of the Trotina, many of their artillery horses dropping dead in the traces after the exertion of pulling the guns through the marshy ground. Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 116 – 117. The Crown Prince and his Chief–of–Staff von Blumenthal finally arriving on the high ground near Chotoborek at 11:00 a.m., and it was now that any doubts they may have harboured concerning not seeing any action that day were dispelled by what they now saw: ‘From the heights on which they stood, they looked down into a shallow valley through which ran a stream called the Trotina. On its banks below them was the village of Jericek, then further to the left, Luzan, and further left and just out of sight, Trotina village–the last two in the line of march of the Sixth Corps. Beyond Jericek, on the other side of the stream, the ground rose in a series of flat ridges to the hill of Horenowes, which cut off the view towards the Bistritz valley, which lay beyond. Along the heights of Horenowes they could see the flashes of Austrian batteries–eight of them, it was learned later–firing westward; and the volume of smoke and the mingled sound of artillery and small arms made it clear that no chance encounter or rear–guard action was in progress, but that the First Army must be engaged heavily along its whole front. Blumenthal turned to the Crown Prince. “This is the decisive battle,” he said, and Frederick William silently agreed.’ Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 127 – 128.
Benedek was seemingly pleased by how the battle had thus far progressed. The mood at his headquarters near Lipa was one of studied satisfaction; victory still beckoned, and even the offensive minded Feldzueugmeister was considering a counterattack, ordering his reserves to close up on Lipa in readiness to strike the decisive thrust westwards. This sudden change of heart may have caused him to have cancelled a previous order, made at the suggestion of Baumgarten, to send Ramming’s VI Corps to take post on the right flank, on the ground previously vacated by Festetics and Thun’s unauthorised repositioning. Benedek now seems to have considered that, as Mollinary and Thun should now be following his orders to break off the fight in the Swiepwald and Cistowes and returning to their original positions, he needed all his reserves closed up and ready to assist when the urge presented itself for him to go on the offensive. Ibid, page 130.
The confident mood among those gathered at Lipa soon changed when, at 11:30 a.m., news arrived of the approach of the Prussian Second Army. Benedek now began to lose the thread of events and, becoming annoyed by having all eyes upon him at headquarters, he mounted his horse and rode up the hillside to Chlum trailing a crestfallen kite tail of staff behind him. What went on in his mind we will never know, but it certainly appears that what plans he may have had were now relegated to the rubbish bin and the initiative was passing rapidly into Prussian hands. Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 242.
At around this time four artillery batteries from the Prussian 11th Division went into action on the high ground to the north of Racitc firing on the Horenowes heights, where two linden trees stood out plainly against the skyline, the Crown Prince using them as a direction marker for the advance. The Austrians still had troops defending Ractiz village but these were soon forced to retire as the 12th Division cleared the wood on the Horicka Berg of more elements of Henriquez over–extended brigade which had been thinly strung out attempting to cover the approaches from north, and was now forced to fall back behind the Trotina stream. Meanwhile the Second Army Guard reserve artillery batteries under Colonel Count Hohenlohe–Ingelfingen, following orders from the Crown Prince to get forward with his guns, passed through the village of Jericek, but were soon brought up short by the dilapidated state of the old bridge. The stream was running high after the recent rain and although dubious as to whether the weight of his guns and limbers would cause the bridge to collapse, he saw no other alternative. Clearing a passage through the 1st Guard Division who were also attempting to cross, Hohenlohe finally managed to get his four batteries over and up onto the ridge some 2,000 meters from the Austrian artillery positions at Horenowes. Here, together with two batteries belonging to the 1st Guard Division, he began to engage the enemy in an artillery contest that lasted for almost an hour, during which time more Prussian batteries came into action until, by 12:30 p.m., 78 guns were firing on some 40 Austrian, causing the latter to finally limber up and pull out. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 132. By 1:00 p.m., with more Second Army units arriving on the field, Fransecky’s weary troops of the 7th Division at last began to receive support. Luckily this came at a time when Mollianry and Thun were withdrawing their own battered and now demoralised units from the charnel house of the Swiepwald wood.
The Saxons in Trouble.
As the Prussian Second Army began to put pressure on Benedek’s right wing the slow progress of the Army of the Elbe over on the left was causing Moltke to become impatient, finally, at around 1:45 p.m., sending Herwarth a message stating: ‘Crown Prince at Zizelowes. Retreat of Austrians to Josephstadt cut off. It is of greatest importance that corps of General von Herwrath advance against the wing opposed to it while the Austrians are still making a stand in the centre.’ What Moltke did not know was that at 1:30 p.m. the Saxons had already gone over on to the offensive themselves, and that the Saxon Crown Prince, at the head of two brigades, had come down from the heights of Problus making a thrust southwest towards Hrakek, the Saxon Life Brigade actually pushing on almost to the bridgehead at Nechanitz, driving the Prussians before them. Seeking to build on this success Prince Albert asked for support from the Austrian VIII Corps which was promptly agreed to, General Weber sending Brigade Schulz and Brigade Roth to take post along the edge of the Stezirek wood, guarding the exposed Saxon left flank. Unfortunately, while Schulz Brigade fell into position in fine order, Brigade Roth became disorganised, several of its units becoming intermixed as they came into line. As they were trying sort themselves out the Prussian 68th Regiment came crashing out of the wood completely destabilising the Austrian line. This sudden counteroffensive was due to Herwarth suddenly ordering General von Cansteins 15th Division, which was now across the river in strength, to mount an attack against Neu–Prim and Nieder Prim. This was done by sending the Twenty–ninth Brigade under Major–General von Stückradt into the wood between the two villages, and Major–General von Glasenapp’s Thirtieth Brigade hooking round through Hradek into the Stezirek wood, hitting the Austrian VIII Corps left wing. It was a cruel blow for the Saxons, as at the very moment they thought they were on the verge of driving the Prussians back across the Bistritz, they were engulfed by a mass of panic stricken Austrians who came dashing through their ranks wide eyed and hot footed as they endeavoured to escape from the rapid fire of the needle gun. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 135. Wawro tells a slightly different story, stating that it was Schulz Brigade first hit, not Roth? He also gives General Weber as commanded the … Continue reading
Soon the mixed up and struggling units of Austrian and Saxon troops were being driven to the west, coming under fire as they did so from the Prussian Twenty–ninth Brigades artillery, and despite every attempt by field officers to stem the flow the whole Austrian right wing seemed on the verge of total collapse, only the steady withdrawal of the Saxon 5th Battalion and the 2nd Rifle Battalion, who had managed to hold together despite suffering heavy losses, stopped the stampede from becoming a rout, but not before General Schultz, trying to rally his troops, was killed. Pulling back in steady order while allowing the last of the fugitives to pass through their ranks, the Saxons then closed up and returned fire on the advancing Prussians, their fine discipline enabling the Austrians to rally on their reserve units and re–form around Ober Prim, while they steadily retired to their own former position at Problus. Ibid, page 136.
Canstein realised at once that he must keep the momentum of his advance going and ordered Glasenapp’s Thirtieth Brigade to attack Ober Prim without delay, while Stuckradt’s Twenty–ninth went in against Nieder Prim. Glasenapp, despite some of his units becoming mixed together due to the broken nature of the ground and the woods through which they had to pass, advanced rapidly, striking Ober Prim from the west with the 68th Regiment and companies of the 40th and 65th Regiments, under the command of Colonel Zimmerman, while sending two battalions of the 28th Regiment to attack through the woods to the south. The Austrians put up a stubborn resistance, in particular the 3rd Infantry Battalion of Colonel von Gerstner’s 8thRegiment (Brigade Kreyssern) who, ensconced in every available defensible building in the village, poured in a destructive fire on the advancing Prussian 28th Regiment, causing heavy casualties. At last they were forced to retreat, falling back in small groups, some going towards Problus others seeking safety in the Briza wood. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz:Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 356.
With the Prussian occupation of Ober Prim the Saxon position at Problus became critical. Crown Prince Albert ordered the 1st Saxon Brigade to the southern edge of the wooded ground between Problus and Charbusitz, backed up by two smoothbore field batteries and two horse artillery batteries, which took up a position on the high ground to the east of the village of Nieder Prim where they were joined shortly by two more field batteries, their combined fire containing the advance of Canstein’s push on Problus just long enough for the Saxon troops to fall back, thereafter, being unable to respond to the Saxon artillery effectively, Canstein was forced to pull out of Ober Prim, which was now burning furiously. Ibid, page 356.
After following up the retreating Saxons to Nieder Prim Stuckradt’s forward units linked up with Colonel Zimmerman’s mixed command just west of Ober Prim, both combining in a forward thrust on Problus, their attack being aided by the arrival of Colonel von Rozynski who had come forward with the reserve artillery to a position some 1,600 meters from Nieder Prim, the concentrated fire of these guns enabling Zimmerman to send in the 65th Regiment which cleared the Saxon defenders from the village, driving them back to Problus.
It was now 2:30 p.m., and at Problus the Saxon Crown Prince fully realised that with the fall of Nieder Prim the Austro–Saxon position together with its 46 cannon was under serious threat of being overrun by the advancing Prussian infantry as now, Herwarth, conforming to Moltke’s order of 1:45p.m., had sent in Lieutenant-General Count zu Münster–Meinhövel’s 14th Division to storm Problus, these went in with colours unfurled and bands playing along the whole Problus–Stresetiz line. Fritz Höenig, with the 28th Brigade,h as left a first–hand account of the view that met his gaze as the Prussians topped the ridge at Popowitz:
Just as if the curtain had gone up in a theatre, now a stage lay suddenly before our eyes. And what a stage! The whole of the enemy’s front was, in the true sense of the word, veiled in flames and smoke, from Prim to Problus, Stresetitz to Lipa and Chlum. Between Prim and Problus one perceived a connected array of artillery, and on this side, as far as the view ranged, there were skirmishers and columns advancing, colours flying, music playing… I have never since seen anything which approached this battle–piece in effect on the imagination. Hönig. F, Inquiries Concerning the Tactics of the Future, translated by Captain H. M. Bowes, London 1899. Quoted in, Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – … Continue reading
The impact of this assault forced the First Saxon Brigade, which had suffered substantial casualties at Gitschin, to start to fall apart, with a slow trickle of fugitives leaving the ranks. This was enough for Prince Albert who, seeing no alternative, gave the order to retire. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 138.
Covering his flanks with cavalry the Crown Prince sent the Third Infantry Brigade to defend the ground between Nieder Prim and Problus, the remaining Saxon forces pulling back to Briza. The rear guard work of the Third Brigade was carried out with grim determination and heavy casualties, the brigade commander, Major General von Carlowitz and the commander of the 3rd Rifle Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel von der Mosel among the fallen. Thanks to their sacrifice, at 3:00 p.m., almost the whole of the Saxon army had managed to pull back in tolerably good order; in fact so effective was the stand made by the rearguard that at 3:30 p.m. the 1st Rifle Battalion was still stubbornly holding its ground around the wood of Bor where, raising their hats and cheering, the Saxon Crown Prince rode up with his staff to thank them for their bravery and gave them the honour of guarding his headquarters during the retirement. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 139.
However great the gains made by the Army of the Elbe, they fell far short of what Moltke had been expecting. Herwarth had always worried that in the event of an Austrian offensive delivered to the First Army he would be in danger of being isolated and cut off. For this reason he had pressed his advance with caution. Even now, with the collapse of the Austro–Saxon position at Problus, he had still not concentrated all his forces to effectively move across the Austrian rear and cut off Benedek’s line of retreat. In fact, although he had been given extra cavalry during the morning, in the shape of Major General von Alvensleben’s 1st Heavy Cavalry Division, he kept these too far back to supply the much needed support that was now required. As if this were not bad enough, the whole of the 16th Division had not started to cross the river at Nechanitz until 2:00 p.m., thus the chance to deliver the coup de grace was lost. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 357.
The Fall of Chlum.
After scrutinizing the distant boil of smoke rising in the direction of Horenowes, Benedek erroneously concluded that–despite the arrival of the Prussian Second Army–now that Thun’s II Corps were falling back, echeloned down the Maslowed–Nedelist road, and Mollinary had sulkily pulled his IV Corps back into line on the Chlum–Nedelist position, where he was backed up by ten batteries from the reserve artillery–some sixty guns and ten Raketengeschütz sections–under Lieutenant Colonel Hofbauer, plus having his reserves close at hand, he would still be able to contain the now converging attacks against his position, thereafter he returned to his forward headquarters post at Lipa content, it would seem, that his army could cope with whatever was thrown at it. His own dilatory behaviour, coupled with the excesses of the mornings fighting around Cistowes and in the Swiepwald, would soon prove both his, and the armies, undoing. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 343.
Still the co–ordinated turning movement of the Prussian Second Army continued to build on the Austrian right flank. By 2:00 p.m. over on the extreme left, Lieutenant–General von Prondzynski’s Prussian 12th Division advancing up the east bank of the Trotina stream was approaching Trotina village, thereafter it would move on Lochenitz and, pushing on, cut the Sadowa–Königgrätz highway. On its right, the 11th Division of Lieutenant–General von Zastrow, having crossed the Trotina at Racitz at 1:00 p.m., driving back a much fatigued battalion of Holsteins Brigade–which had already lost heavily in the Swiepwald fighting–was now moving on Sendrastiz from where it would strike at its real objective, the village of Nedelist. Once there it would be on the flank and rear of the Austrian key position at Chlum. The only troops who stood in the way to cover these advances were Brigade Henriquez, supported by two battalions and one company from Brigade Thom and Major General Prince Thurn und Taxis’s 2nd Light Cavalry Division. To the consternation of many of his officers the commander of the Austrian II Corps, Count Thun, now decided that the battle was definitely not going the way he had hoped and quit the field, taking almost 25,000 men out of line and retreating to the other side of the upper Elbe. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 140.
The village of Chlum was defended by the 46th Infantry Regiment (Sachsen Meiningen), under Colonel von Slawetzki , Brigade Appiano, III Corps. It had one battalion inside the village itself and another battalion posted just outside to the east. The IV Corps now had a good percentage of its units back in their originally intended prepared positions dug in around the perimeter of the village, including the fresh Brigade Archduke Joseph, but with many of the other formations badly mauled after the heavy fighting in the Swiepwald. Five batteries of artillery were deployed in their first line. Behind these stood, in a second line, part of Brigade Brandenstein and remnants of Fleischhacker’s and Poeckh now much reduced regiments, supported by two field artillery batteries. Barry. Quinitin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866. Page 343.
Horenowes was firmly in the hands of the 1st Prussian Guard Division by 1:00 p.m., but Prince August von Württemberg, commanding the Guard Corps, who was not known for being a bold and positive leader, ordered that no further forward movement should be undertaken until the 2nd Guard Division had arrived to form a reserve, and the 11th Division had cleared the village of Sendrastiz, thus securing Guard Corps flank against any possible Austrian flanking attack. Upon receiving Württemberg’s orders, the commander of the Prussian 1st Guard Division, Lieutenant–General Hiller von Gärtringen–not the type of forward thrusting leader to allow the enemy any respite–took it upon himself to disobey orders and press the attack. Craig. Gordon, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 140
At around 2:30 p.m. Hiller’s division, with the First Guard Infantry Brigade of Colonel von Obernitz, consisting of the 1st and 3rd Guard Regiments leading, moved forward to attack Chlum, Hohenlohe’s artillery well out in front. Hohenlohe had offered his support when he realised that Hiller’s divisional artillery was still coming up from Zizelowes. After observing the damage that was being inflicted on the advancing infantry by the Austrian guns between Chlum and Nedelist, he decided to move his own batteries forward in an attempt to draw part of the enemy fire onto himself. His first position near Jericek proved to be ineffective, the range being too great to cause much damage. Limbering up he then moved his batteries towards a rise of ground near Horenowes, the range from here being some 1,600 meters from the enemy gun line. As his batteries came into action Hohenlohe was chagrined when his guns homed in on an Austrian artillery battery that was moving across his front in full view, but with no apparent effect:
The shells fell in front or in rear, but not one hit the enemy. The battery escaped without losing a single man or horse, and disappeared behind the hill. I felt as angry as a hunter who has missed a royal stag. Hohenlohe, Letters on Artillery, page 22. Quoted in, Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 343.
In Chlum the rising noise of battle did little to perturb Colonel von Slaveczi, the commander of the Austrian 46th Regiment (Sachsen Meiningen), who was ensconced in his command post in the south eastern corner of the village. When some of his officers began to worry about the enemy attacking the village, Slaveczi waved them away stating that they were seeing phantoms. A little later, as the Prussians had actually been sighted approaching, he came out with the astonishing statement that they were in fact Saxons! Craig. Gordon, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 143.
The advance of the 1st First Guard Division came on about 800 meters to the right of Maslowed, marching directly on the church tower of Chlum which was visible from miles around. Little resistance was encountered except from the Austrian batteries mentioned above. In echeloned platoon and company columns the Guards moved steadily through the wet corn fields, going over and into Austrian field work No 3 where they captured sixteen cannon and routed Brigade Archduke Joseph which, in its panic, crashed into the already shaken Brigade Brandenstein, carrying them along in a headlong retreat to the rear. Trying to stem the tide of fugitives, Lieutenant-Colonel von Hofbauer, who’s batteries of the reserve Austrian artillery were positioned just to the rear of the fleeing infantry, came forward with his guns in an attempt to form a rallying line, but to no effect, the only place the whole bolting mass wanted to be was as far away from the needle gun as possible. Hofbauer had no option but to pull back, sustaining minimal losses, and re–forming his batteries to the south on the rising ground in front of the village Sweti. Craig. Gordon A. The Battle of Königgrätz, page 144.
The Prussian 1st Battalion of the 1st Guard Regiment hit Chlum from the south east; each of its companies spreading out as they broke into the village, while the Guard 1st Fusilier Battalion headed for the south side of the village. The surprised troops of the 3rd Battalion Sachsen Meiningen Regiment let loose with a ragged volley, which was answered by such a storm of lead from all sides that in a matter of minutes several hundred fell dead or wounded, the former including Colonel Slawetzki, who learned the hard way the difference between a Prussian and a Saxon uniform. Stepping over the wreckage that had once been Slawetzki’s battalion, the Prussians moved on, trapping the 2nd Battalion of the Sachsen Meiningen Regiment under Lieutenant–Colonel Freiherr von Schimmelpenning. As the battalion attempted to retire they were also dealt with in similar fashion to their comrades in the 3rd Battalion; their commander killed and around 200 killed or wounded, the remainder of the battalion surrendered. Moving on towards the western edge of the village and clearing the orchards and gardens the victorious Prussians were halted by a heavy salvo poured into them from Captain von der Gröben’s 8th Horse Artillery Battery–Austrian III Corps–which was drawn up some 150 meters on that side of the village. As von der Gröben’s crews were reloading their smoking cannon, the 1st Fusilier Battalion of the Guard came looping around the south end of the village and poured such a crippling fire into the Austrian gunners that in less than five minutes von der Gröben and another officer were dead and his battery lost 52 men and 58 horses killed, only one gun managing to limber up and escape. The monument now standing on the site of the batteries sacrifice is inscribed ‘The Battery of the Dead.’ Ibid. page 144 – 145. See also the slightly less detailed account in, Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Ausrtro – Prussian War 1866, page 344-346
The remaining battalions of Appiano’s brigade were deployed in the shelter of the cuttings to the rear of Chlum, where there was no direct view of what was taking place in the village. Appiano himself first got tidings of its capture from a cavalry trooper galloping rearwards and shouting back that the Prussians were in the village, information that shook the brigade commander to the core. Riding up the gully to obtain a better view Appiano was confronted by the sight of enemy skirmishers pushing on from Chlum towards Rozberitz , the very centre of Benedek’s reserve formations, and from where the whole Austrian line of retreat along the Sadowa–Königgratz highway could be blocked. Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 251.
Realising the danger, Appiano sent the 4th Jäger Battalion to interpose themselves between the Prussian units descending on Rozberitz, while he gathered the already battle fatigued 62nd Infantry Regiment (Archduke Henry) into a storm column to retake Chlum. Unfortunately all that was left of the 62nd Regiment were just four battle worn up companies, the remainder having been killed or wounded during their stint in the morning fighting at Cistowes. With their staying power at a low ebb the remnants of the regiment crumpled then broke as they were threatened by the sudden appearance of several squadrons of Prussian uhlans. After attempting to stem the flow of his bolting troops, Appiano galloped over to steady the 4th Jäger Battalion at Rozberitz, but found that here also all but one company had quit the field. Turning this way and that in the saddle to assess the situation, Appiano was suddenly immersed in a mass of fleeing Austrian cuirassiers and thrown from his horse. With their commander down the remaining elements of his brigade gave up the fight and took off for the rear. Ibid, page 252.
Rosberitz and the ‘Path of the Dead.’
In total oblivion to what was transpiring over on his right flank, Benedek continued to live in a world of well satisfied ignorance at his headquarters on the heights of Lipa. At around 2:45 p.m. his complacency was shattered when Colonel Neuber, a member of his staff, came galloping up on a well lathered horse begging for a “conversation under four eyes,” which meant a private meeting. Benedek, brave but at times petty and self opinionated, stopped dictating an order to one of his aides and replied, somewhat theatrically, ‘We have no secrets here.’ Neuber, only wishing to get the news delivered rapidly, pressed on–‘Then I have to inform you that the Prussians are in Chlum.’ ‘Don’t talk such nonsense!’ Benedek shot back ‘Plauschen’s nicht!’ Neuber stood his ground, the Prussians were indeed in Chlum. Turning to his newly arrived Chief–of–Staff, Baumgarten, Benedek asked him to check out Neuber’s claim then, having second thoughts, he decided to see for himself if, something in his heart and mind he tried not to contemplate, his central bastion was indeed in enemy hands. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz:Helmuth von Moltke and the Austo –Prussian War 1866, page 358.
Followed by his staff Benedek galloped off towards Chlum and, as if to confirm Neuber’s information in lead, having travelled no further than 600 meters the whole glittering cavalcade became the target of the needle gun. As The Times military correspondent riding with the Austrian staff reported next day:
More quickly than I can fairly tell, Prince Esterhazy was down, his horse shot under him; Count Grünne was wounded, it is said, mortally; Baron Henikstein’s English mare was severely wounded, and there were many casualties among the men. I saw young Prince Esterhazy, his face covered with mud, stagger to his feet, and, taking a horse from a dragoon, who was instantly supplied with another, ride, as did all the rest, to seek a safer position; not, however, before they had rallied the men, who, startled by the suddenness of the attack, were breaking their ranks. The key of the position was in the hands of the enemy, and consternation was on every face. No one was cooler than Benedek himself to as, attended by all who caught sight of him, he rode off to bring up some of the reserves and to retake the position. The bullets still fell thickly, as the Staff galloped after their chief; and on their approaching a small farm with outhouses, which should have sheltered them, they were saluted with a fresh volley of balls [sic] from the Prussian tenants, one of which wounded the Archduke Wilhelm in the head, but not, I believe, seriously. It is no surprise that this unexpected apparition of the enemy in our very midst, when the Austrian army seemed on the point of victory, should have created some confusion. The Times, July 11th 1866, page 10. Quoted in, Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 151.
Benedek would never be among the great or even the good commanders of history, but he was certainly up there with the likes of the red–headed fire eating Marshal Ney when it came to bravery and stubborn determination. Now fully aware of the precarious, if not yet quite desperate, situation developing all around him he placed himself at the head of the 52nd Infantry Regiment (Archduke Franz Karl) of Colonel Benedek’s Brigade (no relation to the commander–in–chief ), for an assault on Chlum. This forlorn hope managed to get close to the edge of the village but, after suffering severe casualties, was forced to retire leaving a carpet of dead and wounded in its wake. The major artery of the Austrian army’s retreat was the Sadowa–Königgräz highway; Chlum therefore had to be retaken–the time had come for Benedek to put aside any thoughts of going over to the offensive–his reserves were now needed to stabilise his crumbling position; to this end Ramming’s VI Corps began to organise itself to retake the village. Barry. Quintin, The Battle of Königgrätz:Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 359.
Having a staff that was far too small for the task of keeping up a constant flow of battlefield information, the Prussian Second Army headquarters could do little in the giving or receiving of orders. Whereas the Prussian King and Moltke up on the Roskosberg had some 200 riders they could dispatch to all parts of the battlefield, the Crown Prince was almost totally ignorant of the progress of the various corps and divisions of his army. As Craig correctly points out, ‘If the battle had ever started to swing the other way, this deficiency of intelligence might have had the most serious results.’ Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 153.
At 3:30 p.m. the Prussian Crown Prince was at Maslowed without any idea of what had been taking place along the Second Army front line. He could see that over to his right the fighting in the smoking Swiepwald wood had now seemed to have abated. Towards the heights of Lipa and Chlum a great shroud of smoke hung heavily over the whole position, with the church tower of Chlum sending fingers of flame into the sky as it burnt furiously. Over to his left he could just see units moving forward and a fierce battle raging around Nedelist but, due to the billowing clouds of smoke and the mist still lying in the folds of the ground, he could not tell what exactly was taking place. Becoming agitated by this lack of information his worries were now added to as artillery shells began homing in on his position. This caused some consternation among the Prince’s staff for his safety and, as it turned out, was yet another example of the lack of communication between the various elements of the Second Army, as the shells falling around the Crown Prince came from a Prussian battery near the Lipa woods. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 153 – 154.
The mood at Second Army headquarters soon changed however when Major von Gravenitz came riding up declaring that the Guards had taken Chlum. This glad tiding was received with a great burst of cheering, altering the whole, until then, somewhat despondent attitude of the staff who suddenly, ‘became drunk with victory.’ This euphoric atmosphere was, however, to be challenged during the next hour which was to see some of the bloodiest fighting of the whole battle. Ibid, page 154.
At near 3:30 p.m., while Ramming was organising his assault on Chlum, Archduke Ernst, the commander of the III Corps, still had two relatively fresh brigades at his disposal, those of Colonel von Abele and Colonel Prohaska. Ernst’s Chief –of–Staff, Colonel von Catty, now launched Prohaska’s brigade in storm columns against the Lipa wood and the high ground west of Chlum village, in an attempt to secure Ramming’s flank. Advancing at a steady pace, Catty led the brigade over the main highway and up the not inconsiderable incline towards its objectives. They were greeted by a murderous concentration of fire, not only from the Prussian troops in and around the Lipa wood, but also by flanking fire poured into them by others holding the village of Rosberitz:
When the Austrian masses were within 100 paces, they [the Prussians] first delivered two volleys and then commenced a file–fire of most extraordinary effect. The enemy halted for a moment and then fell back behind the high road, suffering enormous losses from the Prussian fire during his retreat. The Campaign of 1866 in Germany. Department of Military History of the Prussian General Staff (Trans), page 236. Quoted in, Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro … Continue reading
After this costly revelation, it now became obvious to Benedek that before any attempt could be made to regain Chlum, Rosberitz would first have to be cleared of Prussians. At the moment only three composite battalions occupied the village; therefore it was imperative to act quickly before any reinforcements were sent to bolster the defence. With Ramming’s VI Corps now approaching there seemed a good chance that a rapid counter attack would clear the Prussians out and, maybe, carry enough impetus to drive straight on into Chlum. In order to attain this goal Austrian guns now started to bring fire down on Rosberitz and Chlum while, just across the main highway to the south, along the roadside ditches, Austrian riflemen kept up a vigorous peppering fire against anything or anyone that moved in Rosberitz village. Soon many of the houses were ablaze, thick acrid smoke slowly drifting over the whole landscape.  Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866’ page 360. There are various accounts of this stage of the battle given in the sources. I have … Continue reading
The volume of Austrian artillery fire concentrated on Chlum alone soon reduced the village to a pile of rubble, the rain of shot and shell being so great that Hohenlohe was having problems attempting to get his Prussian Guard Reserve Artillery Batteries into position on the Chlum heights in preparation for any counter attack. A first–rate artillery commander, Hohenlohe now decided to use a skilful, if somewhat dangerous dodging tactic, to try and compensate for being outgunned. He ordered his batteries to expose themselves to the Austrian fire then, just as they had calculated the range (this was normally done by dropping a shot behind the proposed target, then one in front, checking the elevation between both shots, placing the third shot in the central zone, hopefully on target.) his guns were to move quickly forward to the edge of the Chlum plateau, about 250 meters distance, making the Austrian batteries overshoot their target.
Hohenlohe’s tactics worked out well for a while, the compact masses of Austrian storm battalions Ramming sent to assault Rosberitz were mowed down by a hail of shot and shell. A friend of Hohenlohe, Major von Erckert, who commanded three companies of the 2nd Guard Regiment, holding the southern edge of the village, but who had been wounded and taken for dead in front of Rosberitz, told later how:
The Austrian battalions, who were passing over [my] body as they advanced to attack Rosberitz, stopped short in their rush at the first shot fired from the hill of Chlum; they were seized with fear, and seemed held fast to the spot by a magic force. Hohenlohe, Letters on Artillery, page 69. Quoted in, Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 361.
As successful as Hohenloe’s tactics and fire effect had been it came at a price, soon over 100 Austrian cannon had swung their attention to his position, bringing down a hail of counter battery fire which caused severe casualties to men and horses. Ibid, page 361.
The Austrian attacking columns consisting of the 17th Jäger Battalion and the Deutschmeister Regiment of Vienna, both belonging to Rosenzweig’s brigade, staggered but kept on moving forward into the southern part of Rosberitz, which was now a pile of pulverised buildings and smouldering timbers. Prussian rifle fire slackened as ammunition began to run low. Seizing the opportunity the Deutschmeister came on with a cheer and a bayonet charge, forcing the defending Prussians to fall back, a young Lieutenant Paul von Hindenburg among them. The 11th Company had only twenty men still fighting, under the leadership of Sergeant Gursch, who had managed to keep hold of the tattered remains of the regimental standard. After putting up a stiff but faltering resistance, they fell back up the hillside towards Chlum along a sunken track, soon to become known sinisterly, as “The Path of the Dead,” to join the remains of the other two companies who had already retired. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 157
Having cleared the Prussians from Rosberitz, Ramming now gathered his corps, backed up now by the as yet uncommitted elements of I Corps, to retake Chlum. In a repeat performance of what, by now, should have become glaringly obvious to any general who had seen the massacres that had taken place when using battalion storm columns and frontal attacks, Ramming once more adopted these same tactical formations and the same method of direct approach, rather than attempting either to outflank the village, or send his troops forward in less densely packed groupings. First up the slope were Waldstätten’s brigade, 9th Regiment (Hartmann); 79th Regiment (Frank); 6th Jäger Battalion, and Rosenzweig’s brigade, 55th Infantry Regiment (Gondrecourt); 4th Infantry Regiment (Deutschmeister), and the 17th Jäger, all moving with measured step in cadence, flags flying, horns blowing and regimental bands boosting spirits–things soon changed:
The Prussians gathered at the mouth of this defile [The Path of the Dead] and mounted its banks to pour fire into Rosenzweig’s Germans and Ukrainians. The Prussian hussars from Prince Friedrich Karl’s reserve rode in and slashed at their backs. Two Guard batteries deployed only 100 meters away in the grass between Chlum and Rosberitz blasted loads of case shot through their ranks. An Austrian adjutant sent to summon two battalions of Hungarians deployed in support of Rosenzweig’s foundering attack found that the men had quietly slipped away: “No one knew where they had gone.” Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 261.
The fire poured in from both artillery and needle gun cut down the attacking columns in swaths, chocking the sunken road with dead and wounded–truly a ‘Path of the Dead.’ This fire stopped the attack in its tracks. Attempting to return a volley, the bleached out remnants of Rosenzweig’s brigade were hit by a bayonet charge from three companies of Prussian Guards–this proved enough–the Austrians scattered and ran back in confusion. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 363.
With no signs of his previous facial neuralgia, Ramming personally led another assault on Chlum, leading the 60th Regiment (Wasa), and the 20th Regiment (Crown Prince of Prussia), both of Brigade Jonak with Brigade Hertwegh in close support; all in compact storm columns on a two battalion front, only to be decimated in their turn before they even managed to get half–way to Chlum. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 159. Nevertheless, the Prussian hold on Chulm remained in the balance. Hohenlohe reflected that the Austrians were attempting, ‘…with a mad bravery and a madder formation to force what could be won more cheaply and with a little reflection.’ But despite these musings, it now being passed 4:00 p.m., Hohenlohe began to consider that these desperate tactics could prove effective as his gunners were running low on ammunition and he had suffered many casualties among his artillery horses. This latter problem become so acute that at 4:30 p.m. he pulled back to the high ground running from the north end of Chlum to the village of Nedelist. Ibid, page, 160. Luckily for the defenders of Chlum, Bonin’s First Corps advanced elements were now on hand to give support, and a previous message had been received by Hiller from General von Mutius, commander of the Sixth Corps, that he was regrouping his divisions at Nedelist and wanted to know where he could provide the best assistance. Hiller replied that Rosberitz should be the direction of Mutius’s advance, but fully realised that this would take some time to come into effect. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz:Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro- Prussian War 1866, page 363.
Lieutenant–General Friedrich Wilhelm Hiller von Gärtringen was one of the favourites of the Prussian King. At 59 years of age he had spent most of his military life in the Guards. His father had commanded a brigade at Waterloo, which had assaulted the village of Planchenoit on the French right rear, capturing it from Napoleon’s Imperial Guard and in doing so playing a crucial role in the defeat of the French Emperor. The comparison between the then and the now was glaringly obvious to Hiller as he sat his horse watching the massed attacks of the Austrians, which were showing no sign of abating, and with the withdrawal of Hohenlohe’s batteries from their exposed position, Hiller began to have serious concerns about his ability to hold Chlum. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 161 – 162.
Hiller’s doubts were soon dispelled when Major von Summerfeld came riding up announcing that the advanced guard of Bonin’s First Corps was arriving to give him support, and that the rest of the corps was following close behind. ‘Now everything will be all right,’ Hiller said his, features visibly relaxing from their former tenseness. Just then he was struck by a shell splinter which knocked him out of the saddle, and he died as he was being taken to a field dressing station. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 363 – 364.
Soon Prussian infantry companies were thickening Hiller’s ragged defensive line along the top of the Chlum hillside:
The ten fresh companies that the I Corps had brought into action, and the detachments of the Guards which remained in their position, now swept the whole face of the hill towards Rosberitz with so effective a fire that the Austrian columns westward of the village were also obliged to desist from all further attempts to advance. The Campaign of 1866 in Germany. Department of Military History of the Prussian General Staff (Trans), Quoted in, Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – … Continue reading
With Hiller’s death the defence of Chlum was now in the hands of Lieutenant–General von Grossman, commander of the First Division, who had just arrived at the village. Noting the lull in Austrian attacks Grossman decided to use this to good effect and attempted to retake Rosberitz, sending in Major–General von Pape’s First Brigade to attack the village.
As Pape organised his brigade for the assault, Major–General von Hoffmann, leading 38th Regiment of his 22nd Brigade (11th Division, Sixth Corps) was moving on Rosberitz from the north east, while his 51st Regiment moved on Wsestar. Suddenly, just as the Prussian advance on Rosberitz was commencing, a mass of cavalry were seen advancing from the direction of Sadowa, causing a brief moment of consternation, which was soon dispelled when it was discovered that they were Prussian horse belonging to the 12th Thuringian Hussar Regiment of Major–General Count von der Groeben’s 3rd Light Cavalry Brigade, First Army, who were in the process of following up the Austrian withdrawal, which was now becoming general all along the line. Walker. Colonel Beauchamp, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 32.
At around 3:00 p.m., Gablenz’s X Corps, positioned between Wsestar and Sweti, had turned to face Chlum after it was learned that the village had fallen to the Prussians, but no sooner had it realigned itself than it was attacked from the rear by the advancing battalions of the First Army who, since Gablenz now had most of his artillery switched in the direction of Chlum, were pressing forward from the villages along the Bistritz River. Colonel Friedrich Mondel, commanding one of Gablenz’s brigades, and who was feverishly attempting to get his brigade to pull back, later remarked, “…we had 40,000 troops packed in the cavity between Langenhof and Chlum, and the Prussians poured fire into us.” Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 259.
A Clash of Swords.
With the Saxons in full retreat, Chlum in enemy hands, and his central reserve position being squeezed from all sides Benedek, after attempting–unsuccessfully–to stem the tide of retreat, but still intent on keeping his escape route clear, now ordered Ramming to cease further assaults. He instructed Gondrecourt’s I Corps to keep the retreat route open by putting in spoiling attacks on the Chlum heights, buying time for the army to retire. To slow the advance of the Prussian Elbe Army, Benedek ordered General von Piret’s brigade to march towards Problus and, in what was to be one of the last great cavalry battles ever fought, the First and Third Reserve Cavalry Divisions under Lieutenant–Field Marshal Prince Schleswig Holstein and Major–General Count Coudenhove respectively, were instructed to attack westward, delaying and stalling any attempt by the Prussian First Army to pursue. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 165.
A cavalry action, especially when some 5,000 or more mounted troops were engaged, is now impossible to imagine in anything but scanty detail. The sheer number of men and horses, the former seeking either glory or fame, mainly among the officer class, the latter being there because they were animals who just happened to be domesticated enough to carry a rider and give him their trust, all had their own small role to play in the slashing, swirling, turmoil of a cavalry battle. Sabre and sword cuts caused horrendous wounds, one strong blow could severe an arm or take off a head and once the opposing squadrons clashed, all order and finesse vanished in a whirl of cutting, stabbing frenzy. As Craig so correctly comments, ‘ Even to the trained eyes watching from the hills, this phase of the battle, which involved 39½ Austrian squadrons and 31 Prussian, was complicated, and it is difficult to describe it without a dangerous degree of oversimplification.’ Ibid, page 165.
The cavalry engagement that now developed was split into two actions, each closely related to each other. The first occurred between Langenhof and Rosberitz where, as stated above, General von der Groeben was advancing with the lead elements of Major General Hann von Weyhern’s 2nd Cavalry Division of the First Army, with orders to proceed to Rosberitz and attack as opportunity presented itself. Owing to some mix up in relaying the orders, Geoeben found that, upon reaching Rosberitz, three of his dragoon squadrons had veered off towards Langenhof, and he was now left with the 12th Thuringian Hussar Regiment Nr. 12, and just two squadrons of the Neumark Dragoon Regiment Nr.3. Undeterred, Colonel Albert Freiherr von Barnekow leading the Thuringian Hussars charged three Austrian battalions and some artillery who were in the process of pulling out Rosberitz. Blasted by canister fire and a ragged volley rattled off by the infantry the hussars still managed to get in among the enemy, only to be caught in flank by a large force of cuirassiers belonging to the Prince of Schleswig Holstein Division.
The story goes that upon receiving Benedek’s orders to attack, ‘… Holstein raised himself in his stirrups and with his usual mild politeness which characterised this fearless man, even in the thickest hail of ball–he first pointed to the west, from where the Prussian First Army was advancing, then to the north, where the masses under the Crown Prince of Prussia were seen developing, and with an almost dainty gesture of his hand in both directions, inquired: “Here stands the enemy, and there stands the enemy; where does your Excellency command that I should attack?” When Benedek had given him the direction, he saluted, turned and threw himself with his cuirassiers upon the enemy.’ Gerard. Dorothea, The Austrian Officer at Work and at Play, page 144.
Holstein directed Major–General Schindlöcker’s brigade, consisting of the 9th Regiment (Stadion), and the 11th Regiment (Emperor Franz Joseph) to engage the Prussian horse and disengage the struggling Austrian infantry. Coming on in perfect order, the cuirassiers swept aside the two Prussian dragoon squadrons, then crashed into the Thuringian hussars, pushing them towards Langenhof in a turmoil of wild eyed horses, slashing and stabbing troopers and showers of churned up cods of earth. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 166.
Luckily for the Thuringian hussars, aid was at hand in the form of three squadrons of the Pomeranian Uhlan Regiment Nr 4, commanded by Colonel von Kleist, who quickly forming into line at only fifty meters distance, two squadrons hitting the Austrian cuirassiers on their front, with the remaining squadrons turning in to strike their right flank. Winded and surprised by being suddenly attacked in front and flank, the cuirassiers were checked for a moment, but still managed to hold their own as the whole swirling mass continued to hack and hew its way southwards.
While this struggle was taking place Holstein’s second brigade, commanded by Major–General Prince Solms, and consisting of the 4th Cuirassier Regiment (Ferdinand), 6th Cuirassier Regiment (Hesse), and the 8th Uhlan Regiment (Emperor Max) were approaching from the east towards Langenhof. As they passed the sheep–farm (Schäferei) they were greeted by such a concentration of fire from the needle guns of Prussian infantry ensconced around the buildings that, after sustaining considerable casualties, they wheeled about and fell back. As they did so the Hesse cuirassiers were hit by four squadrons of the Ziethen Hussar Regiment and three squadrons of Uhlan Regiment Nr 4. Giving as good as they received, the Hesse cuirassiers continued the contest until they once more entered the needle guns field of fire around the sheep–farm, where they were forced to disengage and pull back, the majority of Holstein’s division gathering itself near Rosberitz, from where, at 5:00 p.m. it received orders to retire from the battlefield in the direction of Pardubitz. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 166.
Meanwhile, the Prussian 1st Cavalry Division under Major General von Alvenslaben, having become disorganised crossing the Bistritz and then having to untangle itself from the advancing infantry of the Elbe Army, was finally approaching Stresetitz. Riding at the head of his division with the 1st Guard Dragoons Alvenslaben was suddenly attacked by the 11th Uhlan Regiment (Emperor Alexander) and the 10th Cuirassier Regiment (Bavaria), belonging to Major General von Mengen’s brigade of Major General Count Coudenhove’s Third Reserve Cavalry Division. The 1st Guard Dragoons turned to meet the threat, backed up by the 5th Hussars who had just arrived from Unter Dohalitz. The two mounted masses smashed into each other at full gallop, each left wing on both sides overlapping the others right. The Austrian right flank was forced back towards the village of Stresetitz, while on the left the 11th Uhlans cleared the Guard Dragoons out of their path and pressed on towards Problus. Here they were greeted by a hail of canister fire at short range poured into them by the Prussian artillery, causing them to retire back towards Stresetitz. Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 374.
Despite suffering very heavy losses, 64 officers, 1,094 men and 1,681 horses, to the Prussians 31 officers, 409 men and 246 horses, the needle gun and artillery fire accounting for many of the formers casualties, still the Austrian cavalry had defiantly succeeded in its task of stopping any enemy pursuit, and sowing so much confusion among the Prussian cavalry that at one stage of the fighting their Guard Dragoons and the Blücher Hussars clashed with each other thinking each was the enemy. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 168.
The Austrians Retreat.
While the cavalry battle raged, at around 4:45 p.m. Piret’s brigade of I Corps was marching on Problus in an attempt to stall the advance of Herwarth’s Army of the Elbe. The 29th Jäger and the 45th Infantry Regiment (Sigismund) made up the first line, advancing in their usual close packed battalion storm columns, followed in second line by the 18th Infantry Regiment (Constantin) in similar formation. Pushing on through a deluge of shot, shell and rifle fire, the regimental standards being ripped into tatters by the hail of bullets, Piret’s troops managed to check the Prussian forward movement, but at a terrible cost, with almost half the brigade being either killed or wounded. Their sacrifice did however relive some of the pressure along the south side of the main highroad, complementing the sacrifice of the cavalry and causing Herwarth to withdraw part of his artillery from the front line. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 169.
Around Rosberitz Gondrecourt’s I Corps, less Piret’s brigade, were no longer attempting to re–capture Chlum but instead were being used as cannon fodder to keep the Prussians from severing the line of retreat to the rear. Well known for being an advocate of shock tactics Gondrecourt, with the facial expression of a professional lemon sucker, now gave a demonstration in how to sacrifice men on the grand scale. Poshacher’s brigade were first into the mincing machine, being mowed down by the intense fire of the needle gun poured into them by the now massed companies of Prussians who occupied the whole Chlum hilltop. Poshacher was struck and fell to the ground dead, together with all of the brigades other mounted offices and several hundred men. Next, Major–General Ringelsheim came forward with his brigade only to suffer a similar fate. Still apparently unperturbed by the slaughter thus far, Gondrecourt now sent in Colonel–Count Leiningen brigade, closely followed by Major–General von Knebel’s brigade, borrowed from Gablenz’s X Corps, to top up the butchers bill. In twenty minutes these last Austrian suicide assaults resulted in the loss of 150 officers and 5,800 men, the hillside leading up to Chlum being so thickly carpeted with the dead and twitching wounded that a person could not walk up the hill without stepping on a body. Counting the losses suffered during their retreat back to Wsestar, the I Corps lost, altogether, some 279 officers, 10,000 men and 23 guns, one fourth of the casualties sustained by the Austrian North Army at Königgrätz. Ibid, page 169. A memorial (No 296) stands on the hilltop near Chlum, dedicated to the soldiers of the Austrian I Corps. It was unveiled in 1896. Standing on the spot it is hard to imagine how this … Continue reading
Benedek has been criticised, and rightly so, for not calling off these acts of mass slaughter but, although he should probably have tried to form a proper concerted rearguard withdrawal, his troops were far more interested in leaving the field than they were in adding to the casualty list. Besides, as noted by Staff Captain Ilja Woinowitz who was riding with the commander and who had just witnessed Benedek attempting to rally some retreating cavalry, ‘…no one would even listen to him. It was truly a heartbreaking sight. [Benedek] stopped, looked to the sky, balled his fists and began to weep. Fat tears streamed down his cheeks. He screamed: “And now I must bear even this disgrace into my old age, that a cavalry troop would not obey me! The meaning of these words was to be found not so much in the words themselves, as in the tone in which they were uttered, and I can find no way to describe that accent.’ The Feldzeugmeister was a beaten man. KA, Nachlässe, B/572: 2 (Nosinic), Timisoara, December 27, 1866, Capt, Woinowitz. Quoted in, Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 262 … Continue reading
Once the mass of the retreating Austrian army was safely out of the clutches of Moltke’s double enveloping embrace they began thronging every track, road and pathway leading to the Elbe. Colonel von Abele’s brigade of the III Corps doing its best to cover their retreat, together with an artillery gun line of some 60–70 cannon drawn up on the high ground between Sweti and Wsestar commanded by Lieutenant–Colonel von Hofbauer. These guns did fine work in keeping the enemy at bay until well after 6:00 p.m., when they were forced to withdraw after sustaining heavy losses from the Prussian 11th Division coming around its flank and a withering fire hitting them from Wsestar as the 51st Prussian Infantry Regiment pushed into the village. Hofbauer soon found another position for what was left of his batteries and continued firing, joined by other orphaned artillery units whose parent brigades and corps had already pressed on to Königgrätz, their dogged courage and discipline allowing the ragged and disheartened remains of Benedek’s army to cross the Elbe. The last shots of the battle were fired at 9:00 p.m. at night by Solms horse artillery. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 170.
The Chaos in Königgräz.
A pursued and defeated army reverts to its nucleus–the individual–each man for himself and worry about the consequences once you are far away from the killing fields. The retreat to Königgrätz, although not a disciplined and orderly withdrawal, was compounded by bad liaison and lack of planning in the eventuality of defeat:
Men were screaming and firing their rifles in the air. There was no sign of the Feldzeugmeister, who had already quit the field and crossed the river….We could see masses of Prussians advancing behind us and shells were falling everywhere. It was madness. Even army headquarters had no idea where the bridges had been constructed.
The Austrian field hospitals on the flat ground between Chlum and Königgrätz was overrun by 8,000 [sic] panic–stricken Austrian cuirassiers, who thundered through screaming “run for your lives!” The lazaret’s [hospital wagons] literally disappeared along with hundreds of wounded men trapped inside. Survivors who climbed from the wreckage joined the flight to the Elbe, where, as Ramming put it, “the realisation that the battle was lost and that there were no fortified bridgeheads to conduct the men to safety crushed morale utterly.” Königgrätz itself was inundated and locked up for a siege. Upon reaching the narrow causeway that rose above the flood waters to give access to the fortress, the Austrian line troops, thinking they were home at last, smashed down the palisade at the head of the causeway, streamed along it, and pounded on the fortress gates. Since there were Saxons among the Austrians, garrison troops inside the fortress opened fire, again mistaking their allies for Prussians. …
Men crushed against the walls of the fort suffocated, and the ones along the sides of the causeway tumbled off into the neck–deep water of the moat. All around the fortress works; troops fell to their knees and begged to be let inside. Others swam across to the escarpment and tried to climb the slimy wall. Few could swim and most were too frightened to realise that they could stand in this water….  Excerpts from: KA. AFA, Karton 2275, 13 – 166, Litomysl, July 5 1866, Capt. Stransky, “Tagebuch.” ; KA. AFA, Karton 2270, 8 – 121, Pressburg, August 17, 1866, FLM, Ramming; KA.KM, 1866, … Continue reading
It was, in fact, a complete shambles, the only good thing being the fact that the Prussians were too fatigued and disordered themselves to put together an effective pursuit. At 6:30 p.m., Moltke, after attempting to find the whereabouts of the King, who had taken himself off to distribute decorations and congratulations among the mingled units of the First Army, finally sat down to compose orders for the following day:
6:30 p.m. July 3rd 1866.
Tomorrow will be a day of rest. The troops will only move so far as is necessary for the comfort or the reformation of the corps.
The outposts will be found on the side of Josefstadt by 2nd Army, on the side of Königgrätz by the 1st Army. General of infantry Herwarth von Bittenfeld will with his corps [Army of the Elbe] pursue as far as possible the enemy’s forces which are retreating towards Pardubitz. The Guard Landwehr division will march direct on Chlumetz.
(Signed) Von Moltke.
Because there was no follow up pursuit, Benedek managed to gather almost 180.000 men and instil a modicum of discipline and order back into the ranks, retreating back towards Olmütz in three columns, but it was obvious that the once proud North Army had the stuffing knocked out of it. The losses had been enormous; 1,313 officers, 41, 409 men and 6,010 horses–of whom 330 offices and 5,328 men were killed, 431 officers and 7,143 men wounded, 43 officers and 7,367 men missing, and 509 officers and 21,661 men taken prisoner. The Saxon losses totalled 55 officers and 1,446 men–of whom 15 officers and 120 men were dead, 40 officers and 900 men wounded, 426 missing.
Prussian losses were considerably lower at 359 officers, 8,794 men and 909 horses–of whom 99 officers and 1,830 men were killed, 260 officers and 6,688 men wounded, and just 276 men missing. Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 177.
The condition of the North Army caused Benedek to send Gablenz to Prussian headquarters on the morning of July 4th asking for a suspension of hostilities as a preliminary to peace talks, as the Austrian Emperor himself was now seeking an end to the conflict. It was obvious that it would only be a matter of time before the victorious Prussians came knocking on the gates of Vienna, therefore a five day armistice was extended until the 2nd August, a four weeks truce was declared, and negotiations were moved to Prague. There, at the Blue Star Hotel, on the 23rd August 1866, the final peace agreement was drawn up and within a week the Prussian troops were making their way back to their depots in their own country. Malcolm. Lieutenant Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 133. The Seven Week War was over and Prussia was soon to become one of the most awesome military nations in the world.
Maps and Plans
Altering the sights on the Lorenz Rifled Musket.
This article was taken from: “Using rifle musket sights–the Lorenz, Davide Pedersili & Co”
Shooting the muzzle loading military rifled muskets is a real delight today. It is one of most demanding and most popular disciplines. However it is not well known what challenges the armies faced when they changed from smooth bore to rifled arms.
The introduction of rifled long arms in the armies of Europe and the United States was a great step forward in the mid–nineteenth century. They dramatically increased the effective firearms tactics ranges but also raised some important challenges. The accuracy improved compared to the smooth bore musket but the trajectory of the heavy conical bullet became more curved. The round ball weighting 24–28 grams fired from the smooth bore musket was capable of only 290 m/s (870 feet/sec) velocity. The Austro–Hungarian compression type Lorenz bullet performed better with 375m/s, but the trajectory was curved as well.
The smooth bore musket tactics were simple: the firing started from maximum 250 paces and the most effective range was within 100 paces. In theory the rifled musket could be used effectively up to 900 paces against massed infantry and up to 500 paces against individual infantry soldiers. But to utilize this advantage the soldier had to learn how to judge the distance accurately and how to set the sights, how to aim. This required much more training than the smooth bore musket.
The sight of the Lorenz rifle was an accurate instrument. The rifle fired a 28 gram compression bullet propelled by 55 grains of black powder. The sight was graduated from 300 to 900 paces and the infantryman had to learn nine different aiming methods to hit accurately up to the maximum range.
The first job was to understand the position of the front sight in the notch of the rear sight. There were three ways to use them.
“gestrichenem Kom.” The level of the front sight is under the level of the rear sight.
“feinem Kom.” Both levels are the same.
“vollem Kom.” The level of the front sight is over the level of the rear sight.
Austro–Hungarian Infantry Tactics 1866.
The unfortunate outcome of the Franco–Austrian war of 1859 was not only Austria’s defeat, but also her adoption of the battalion storm column.
The Austrian infantry regiments were made up of four battalions, but when on a war footing the fourth battalion became the depot recruiting unit. The remaining three battalions each consisted of six companies. Each battalion had a field strength of between 1,000–1,100 men, when officers and NCO’s were included. The battalions seldom used any other battlefield formation other than the storm column-Bataillionsmasse-when on the offensive. When on the attack each battalion was divided into company divisions, each division consisting of two companies, three divisions made up a battalion, these manoeuvred in small columns, with tightly closed up ranks. Fire drill was of secondary importance, the bayonet being considered the prime weapon.
Austrian Storm Columns.
View of the terrain from Chulm
These photographs were taken from an observation platform 35 metres above the ground just outside the museum at Chulm.
Order of Battle
Click here for a complete listing of the Order Of Battle
Barry, Quintin. The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro–Prussian War 1866. Paperback Edition. Helion and Company, 2014.
Bucholz, Arden. Moltke, Schlieffen and Prussian War Planning. New York and Oxford: Berg Publishers, 1991.
Clark, Christopher. Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600–1947. Penguin–Allen–Lane Publishing, 2006.
Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1600–1954.Paperback Edition. Oxford University Press, 1964.
Craig, Gordon A. The Battle of Königgrätz. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. London, 1965.
Eden, Lizzie Selina. A Lady’s Glimpse of the Late War in Bohemia. Hurst and Blackett Publishing House. London, 1867.
Gerard, Dorothea. The Austrian Officer at Work and at Play. Paperback Edition, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Holborn, Hajo. The Prussian–German School: Moltke and the Rise of the General Staff. Published in, Makers of Modern Strategy (Editor Peter Paret), Princeton University Press. 1971.
Hughes, J (Editor), Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings. Presidio Press. New York, 1995.
Lawson, James (Editor), The Cavalry. London, 1977.
McElwee, William. The Art of War Waterloo to Mons. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. London, 1974.
Neill, Lieutenant–Colonel Malcolm, D.S.O., Bohemia 1866. Constable and Co Publishers. London, 1912.
Prussian Official History. The Campaign of 1866 in Germany. The Department of Military History of the Prussian General Staff. Translated by Colonel von Wright and Captain Henry M. Hozier. Nashville Battery Press, 1994.
Rothenberg, Guther E. Moltke Schlieffen, and the Doctrine of Strategic Envelopment. Published in, Makers of Modern Strategy (Editor, Peter Paret). Princeton University Press, 1971.
Taylor, A.J.P., Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman. Paperback Edition. England, 2003.
Walker, Colonel Beauchamp C.B., Military Attaché Berlin, The Battle of Königgrätz. Paperback Edition, Helion and Company, 2006.
Wallach, Jehuda L. The Dogma of the Battle of Annihilation. Paperback Edition, American Military University Press Reprint, 1998.
Wawro, Geoffrey. The Austro–Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866. Cambridge University Press, New York and London, 1996.
For details of Austrian and Prussian cavalry tactics and organisation see:
McCellan. General George Brinton, European Cavalry including details of Organisation and Service among the Principal Nations of Europe, J.B.Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1861.
References ↑1 Wawro, Geoffery, The Austro-Prussian War. Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 57 ↑2 Wawro, Geoffrey. The Austro – Prussian War. Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 57 ↑3 Craig, Gordon A. The Battle of Königgrätz, page 74 ↑4 See Appendix for details of altering the sights on the Lorenz Rifle. ↑5 Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640 – 1945, page 139. ↑6 Ibid. page 139. ↑7 McElwee, William. The Art of War Waterloo to Mons, page, 65. ↑8 Ibid. page, 121. ↑9 Craig, Gordon A. The Battle of Königgrätz, page 32. ↑10, ↑11, ↑12 Ibid, page 33. ↑13 Lawford, James (Editor), The Cavalry, page 169. ↑14 Rothenberg, Gunther E, Moltke, Schlieffen, and the Doctrine of Stategic Envelopment, in Makers of Modern Strategy, page 301. ↑15 Holborn. H, The Prusso – German School: Moltke and the Rise of the General Staff, in Makers of Modern Strategy, page 287. ↑16 Mc Elwee. William, The Art of War Waterloo to Mons, page 67. ↑17 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 39. ↑18 Holborn. H, The Prusso – German School: Moltke and the Rise of the German Staff, in Makers of Modern Stratagy, page 286. ↑19 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 171 – 172. ↑20  Barry. Quintin, The Road to Könnigrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 171. ↑21 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 30. ↑22 Quintin. Barry, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro- Prussian War 1866, page 172 -173. ↑23 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 42. ↑24 Holborn. H, The Prusso – German School: Moltke and the Rise of the General Staff, in Makers of Modern Strategy, page 297. ↑25 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 50. ↑26 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 50 -51. ↑27 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 73. ↑28 Ibid, page 78. ↑29 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 80 – 81. ↑30 Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia. 1866 page 29 ↑31 Quintin. Barry, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 227 -228. ↑32 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 59. ↑33 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 55. ↑34 Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia. 1866, page 31. ↑35 General Henri Bonnal, 1844 – 1917. He was a French soldier who wrote, Sadowa, a critical account of the war of 1866. ↑36 Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia. 1866, page 35 – 37. ↑37 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austo – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 127. ↑38 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 63. ↑39 Ibid, page 61. ↑40 Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 33. ↑41 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 128. ↑42 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 65. ↑43 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro –Prussian War 1866, page 236. ↑44 Craig. Gordon A, The battle of Königgrätz, page 66. ↑45 Ibid, page 66. ↑46 Malcolm. Lieutenant Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 40 – 41. ↑47 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 129. ↑48 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Köiggrätz, page 67. ↑49 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 136. ↑50 Ibid, page 136 – 137. ↑51 Ibid, page 138. ↑52 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 73 – 74. ↑53 Ibid, page 74. ↑54 See Craig, page 74, and Wawro, page 143. ↑55 There is some confusion concerning which regiments were engaged on the Prussian side. Craig gives the 8th Prussian Dragoon Regiment and the West Prussian Uhlan Regiment. Quintin Barry states that it was Wnuck’s brigade which has the same composition as given by Craig. However, in his Order of Battle Barry gives Steinmetz’s V Corps as having the 1st Silesian Dragoon Regiment and the 1st West Prussian Uhlan Regiment. I have therefore used the troops given in the OOB. ↑56 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 74. ↑57 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austo – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1966. Page 144. ↑58 Quintin. Barry, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 247. ↑59 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgräz, page 76. ↑60 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 145. ↑61 Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 57. ↑62 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 147. ↑63 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 76. ↑64 Ibid, page 77. ↑65 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 150. ↑66 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgräz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 254. ↑67 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 78. ↑68 Presland. J, (Skelton,G), Vae Victis: the life of Ludwig von Benedek 1804 – 81. Quoted in: Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866. ↑69 Craig. Gordon, A. The Battle of Königgrätz, page 79. ↑70 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 158. ↑71 Ibid, page 159 ↑72, ↑74 Ibid, page 159. ↑73 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 159. ↑75 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 81. ↑76 Ibid, page 82. ↑77 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgräz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 263. ↑78 Ibid, page 264 ↑79 Karton 2294, 6 – 115, Vienna, September 10, 1866, Colonel Grivicic. Quoted in, Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro –Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 165. ↑80, ↑189 Ibid, page 165. ↑81 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 270. ↑82 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgräz, page 86. ↑83 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 183. ↑84 Ibid, page 184 – 185. ↑85 Prussian official history, The Campaign of 1866 in Germany. The Department of Military History of the Prussian General Staff. Translated by Colonel von Wright and Captain Henry M. Hozier. Book The First, page 130. ↑86 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 87. ↑87 Quoted in, Barry.Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 276. ↑88 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 87 – 88. ↑89 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 89. ↑90 There are conflicting accounts of times and events during this battle. I have followed Craig and Wawro, but will be giving a more detailed account of the engagement after our visit to the site later this year. ↑91 Warow. Geoffery, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 189. ↑92 Quoted in, Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Könoggrätz, page 89. ↑93 Ibid, page 90. ↑94, ↑96 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 90. ↑95 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 190. ↑97 Ibid, page 91. ↑98 Malcolm. Lieutenant Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 79 – 80. ↑99 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 92. ↑100 Ibid, page 93. ↑101 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 93. Warow takes the view that Benedek was on the verge of a nervous breakdown by 1st July. One does not shake off such a debilitating psychological complaint that easily. For my part I think that Craig’s assumption is nearer the truth. ↑102 Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 83 – 84. ↑103, ↑104 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 95. ↑105 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 301. ↑106 Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 91 – 93. ↑107 Craig. Gordon A. The Battle of Königgrätz, page 98. ↑108 Quoted in, Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 98 -100. For the full text of all orders and dispatches see: Prussian Official History, The Campaign of 1866 in Germany. Department of Military History of the Prussian General Staff. Translated by Colonel von Wright and Captain M.Hozier. ↑109 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 215. ↑110 Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 101 – 103. See Appendix discussion concerning Benedek’s battle plans. ↑111 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 100. I have reduced Craig’s troop numbers slightly, allowing for the attrition that had taken place during previous engagements. ↑112 Craig. Gordon A. The Battle of Königgrätz, page 100. ↑113 Walker. Colonel Beauchamp, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 11 – 12. ↑114 See Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrâtz, page 102. ↑115 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 105. ↑116 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 103. ↑117 There are some interesting but, unfortunately, unsubstantiated details of the Austrian “white” infantry uniform, which was abolished after 1866. All sources and paintings show the infantry wearing the greatcoat on the field of Königgrätz, as well as during other stages of the campaign, indeed, considering the wet weather, then one would assume that the soldiers were only too happy to have such protection from the elements. However, Lizzie Selina Eden, in her charming account of the 1866 war from the point of view of a tourist in Germany and Bohemia states, ‘…when they [Austrian Jäger] went on long marches, on the very hot days in June, the tunic was rolled up in their knapsack, and only the very loose great – coat worn; which they all said was very cool.’ A Lady’s Glimpse of the Late War in Bohemia, page 129 – 130. Also another well connected lady who socialised with Austrian high ranking offices, Dorothea Gerard writes, ‘…when, during the fights preceding Königgrätz, the infantry was, despite the summer temperature, made to wear their cloaks [great – coats], it was said – whether as a joke or not, I cannot pretend to know – that this was in order to keep the white coats [tunics] clean for the entry into Berlin!’ The Austrian Officer at Work and at Play, page 135 – 136. ↑118 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 106. ↑119 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 109 – 110. ↑120 Prussian Official History: The Campaign of 1866 in Germany. Department of Military History of the Prussian General Staff. Translated by Colonel von Wright and Captain M. Hozier, page 188. ↑121 Ibid, page 188 – 189. ↑122 The Prussian Official History: The Campaign of 1866 in Germany, Department of Military History of the Prussian General Staff. Translated by Colonel von Wright and Captain M. Hozier, page 189. ↑123 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 107 – 108. ↑124 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 218. ↑125 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 111. ↑126 Ibid, page 116. ↑127 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 111. ↑128 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 117. ↑129 Ibid, page 117. See also ↑130 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 117 – 118. The commander of the 7th Divisions 13th Brigade, Major General von Schwarzhoff, receives little attention in any source material. Indeed, Craig passes over him without a mention, while Wawro and Quintin Barry fail to give any precise details of what he was actually doing during the campaign and battle. ↑131 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 119. ↑132 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866. Page 318. ↑133 Öesterreichs Kämpfe, III, 292 ff. There are several versions of the official Austrian documents. I have used Craig and the English translation on the visitor board at the site itself. ↑134 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 120 – 121. See also Wawro’s remarks, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, concerning the Austrians outflanking Fransecky’s position and rolling up the Prussian 1st Army. Page 226 – 228. This was just the thing that Moltke was expecting. One can only imagine the carnage that would have resulted if the Austrians had gone over to the offensive. The needle – gun and the Bistritz would have proved formidable obstacles to be overcome before victory was attainable. ↑135 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866. See also, concerning Napoleonic artillery, Burbeck. James, The War Times Journal: Firepower Comes of Age. ↑136 Fontane. Theodor, Der deutsche Krieg von 1866 (2 vols., Berlin, 1871 – 720. Quoted in, Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 113 – 114. ↑137 Ibid, page 114. ↑138 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 227 – 228. ↑139 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 228. ↑140 Field – Marshal Baron Anton Freiherr Mollinary, Sechsundvierzig Jahre im Oesterrich – un garishchen Herre, 1833 – 1879.K.U.K. Feldzeugmeister. Varlay Art. Institut Orell Füschi. Zurich, 1905. Quoted in, Gerard. Dorothea, The Austrian Officer at Work and at Play. Page 146 – 147. ↑141  Craig. Gordon A. The Battle of Königgrätz, page 122. ↑142 Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia, Diaries, page 36. Quoted in, Barry.Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz:Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 327. ↑143 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Köiniggrätz, page 125. ↑144 Malcolm. Lieutenant – Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 116 – 117. ↑145 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 127 – 128. ↑146 Ibid, page 130. ↑147 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 242. ↑148 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 132. ↑149 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 135. Wawro tells a slightly different story, stating that it was Schulz Brigade first hit, not Roth? He also gives General Weber as commanded the Austrian VIII Corps, which is correct, Craig giving Archduke Ernst (?) In fact it was Archduke Leopold (he quit his command after Skalitz) who commanded VIII Corps later being replaced by Weber. Given the, at times, confusing account of the battle given by Wawro, and although appreciating his very detailed research work, I have stuck with Craig, correcting simple errors where necessary. ↑150 Ibid, page 136. ↑151 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz:Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 356. ↑152 Ibid, page 356. ↑153 Hönig. F, Inquiries Concerning the Tactics of the Future, translated by Captain H. M. Bowes, London 1899. Quoted in, Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 357. ↑154 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 138. ↑155 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 139. ↑156 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 357. ↑157 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 343. ↑158 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 140. ↑159 Barry. Quinitin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866. Page 343. ↑160 Craig. Gordon, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 140 ↑161 Hohenlohe, Letters on Artillery, page 22. Quoted in, Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 343. ↑162 Craig. Gordon, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 143. ↑163 Craig. Gordon A. The Battle of Königgrätz, page 144. ↑164 Ibid. page 144 – 145. See also the slightly less detailed account in, Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Ausrtro – Prussian War 1866, page 344-346 ↑165 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 251. ↑166 Ibid, page 252. ↑167 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz:Helmuth von Moltke and the Austo –Prussian War 1866, page 358. ↑168 The Times, July 11th 1866, page 10. Quoted in, Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 151. ↑169 Barry. Quintin, The Battle of Königgrätz:Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 359. ↑170 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 153. ↑171 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 153 – 154. ↑172 Ibid, page 154. ↑173 The Campaign of 1866 in Germany. Department of Military History of the Prussian General Staff (Trans), page 236. Quoted in, Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 1866. ↑174  Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866’ page 360. There are various accounts of this stage of the battle given in the sources. I have gone with Quintin Barry. ↑175 Hohenlohe, Letters on Artillery, page 69. Quoted in, Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 361. ↑176 Ibid, page 361. ↑177 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 157 ↑178 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 261. ↑179 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 363. ↑180 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 159. ↑181 Ibid, page, 160. ↑182 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz:Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro- Prussian War 1866, page 363. ↑183 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 161 – 162. ↑184 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 363 – 364. ↑185 The Campaign of 1866 in Germany. Department of Military History of the Prussian General Staff (Trans), Quoted in, Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 364. ↑186 Walker. Colonel Beauchamp, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 32. ↑187 Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 259. ↑188 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 165. ↑190 Gerard. Dorothea, The Austrian Officer at Work and at Play, page 144. ↑191, ↑192 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 166. ↑193 Barry. Quintin, The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro – Prussian War 1866, page 374. ↑194 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 168. ↑195 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 169. ↑196 Ibid, page 169. A memorial (No 296) stands on the hilltop near Chlum, dedicated to the soldiers of the Austrian I Corps. It was unveiled in 1896. Standing on the spot it is hard to imagine how this now peaceful landscape must have looked on the late afternoon of 3rd July 1866. ↑197 KA, Nachlässe, B/572: 2 (Nosinic), Timisoara, December 27, 1866, Capt, Woinowitz. Quoted in, Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 262 – 263. ↑198 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 170. ↑199  Excerpts from: KA. AFA, Karton 2275, 13 – 166, Litomysl, July 5 1866, Capt. Stransky, “Tagebuch.” ; KA. AFA, Karton 2270, 8 – 121, Pressburg, August 17, 1866, FLM, Ramming; KA.KM, 1866, CK, Karton 254, 67 – 11/1, Königgrätz, July 3, 1866, GM Wigl to FLM Franck. KA, KM 1866, Karton 2270, 12 – 8, Innsbruck, December 28, 1866, Capt. Adrowski. Quoted in, Wawro. Geoffrey, The Austro – Prussian War: Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866, page 264 – 265. ↑200 Craig. Gordon A, The Battle of Königgrätz, page 177. ↑201 Malcolm. Lieutenant Colonel Neill, Bohemia 1866, page 133.
11 thoughts on “The Battle of Königgrätz Revisited”
Spectacular maps, photos and 360° views.
Marco (from Italy)
Thank you for your comment Marco!
Panorama’s c/o Dr Bob
Graham J. Morris (battlefieldanomalies.com)
Careful — I think there’s a typo for this word somewhere in the document that looks like carful.
I dare say you can find several more typo’s in the article Peter!
Thanks for visiting the site,
Well-written and informative article, plus an excellent treatise on the behaviour of commanders in battle.. Thanks for writing. Keep up the good work.
Thanks for the feed-back on my Koniggratz article Joseph!
Graham J.Morris (battlefieldanomalies.com)
Looking for information and names of soldiers from the cemetery in Reinerz. Where is the list of about 200 soldiers buried?Muzeum Kudowa
Thank you for visiting the site Darlusz.
Could you make it a little more clear who/which soldiers you require the list?
Are the Austrian, Prussian, Saxon or, maybe, a ethnic part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire?
Graham J.Morris (battlefieldanomalies)
After going through the various Order of Battle listings for the Prussian, Saxon and Austrian armies of 1866 I think that the cemetery in what you call Bad Reinerz (Today Dusznik, Poland) contains the men of the Prussian army who fought at the battle of Nachod (?) There is also a cemetery at Zolnierzy (Poland, then Silesia) which, according to Google Earth, is known as the Cemetery of 1866.
Thank you for visiting the site.
The photographs of uniforms were taken over thirty years ago. I stayed in Vienna for a couple of weeks walking the battlefields of Wagram and Aspern/Essling. In those days each section of the Heeres Museum was divided into “period” rooms. The wars of Austria from the Turkish (Ottoman) wars through to W.W. II. My contact for many years was Dr Almyer Beck, a great source of knowledge on many aspects of Austro – Hungarian military history, sadly now so I have been informed no longer with us.
Let me know if I can be of assistance and I will do my best to help.
Graham J.Morris (battlefieldanomalies)
This is an excellent website on a topic that deserves far more coverage. Please, could you advise the origin of the Austrian Army uniform photos you have posted here? I have been to the HGM museum in Vienna numerous times over the last 25 years and the photos you show above do not appear to have been part of their collection, as I cannot ever recall displays of this type with such uniforms, in particular the Hungarian Generals Gala uniform. Do they come from the Chlum 1866 museum or another Bohemian museum? Your assistance with this would be greatly appreciated. Thank you and continued success with your historical projects.