Königgrätz: 1866: the Epic Conflict of the Seven Week’s War between Prussia & Austria—The Campaign of Königgrätz by Arthur L. Wagner with a Short Illustrated Account of the Battle of Königgrätz by Charles Lowe
A pivotal engagement in the formation of modern Europe
This book contains two accounts—one substantial, the other concise and illustrated—describing the Battle of Königgrätz (sometimes known as The Battle of Sadowa) which was the principal land engagement of the Seven Weeks War (also known as the Austro-Prussian War) fought in early July of 1866. The outcome was a decisive victory for the Prussians who achieved success by the tactic of converging numerous units upon a concentrated point which trapped the Imperial Austrian forces between them. This war was an important stage in the process of German hegemony and departure from the longstanding influence of the Austrian Empire. It was a vital conflict in terms of European history, since it formed not only an influential step towards German unification as parts of Bavaria, Hanover and other states were annexed by Prussia, but also because it brought about the annexation of Venetia by Italy. The in depth study of this interesting campaign, by the American author of the principal work in this special Leonaur edition, contrasts the execution of the campaign with similar campaign and battlefield tactics of the civil war in America which had been concluded shortly before these events took place.
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The full tide of Prussian success had now set in. The 16th Division had not yet crossed at Nechanitz, but the 14th and 15th Divisions had defeated the Saxons and the Austrian VIIIth Corps, and the allies were in retreat. Both of the Austrian flanks had been crushed, and the First Army was now actively engaged in an attack upon Von Benedek’s front.
The aide-de-camp sent by the crown prince to announce his approach had been delayed by the condition of the roads and the necessity of making a long detour, and did not arrive at the royal headquarters until late in the afternoon. The crown prince’s advance was first made known to the commander of the First Army by the flashes of the Prussian guns on the heights of Horenowes. Soon after, the Prussian columns were seen ascending the heights of Maslowed. The fire of the Austrian guns in front perceptibly diminished, and it was evident that some of the batteries had changed front to the right.
It was clear that the Second Army had struck the Austrian flank; and at 3:30 o’clock the king ordered “an advance all along the line” of the First Army. The retreat of the Austrian Xth Corps had begun, but it was concealed by the nature of the ground, and covered by the line of artillery, which devotedly maintained its position, and kept up a heavy fire, until its own existence was imperilled by the advance of the foe. The Xth Corps had passed well beyond the danger of infantry pursuit when the advance of the First Army was ordered. The Austrian artillerists held to their position until the enemy was almost at the muzzle of the cannon, and then withdrawing to Rosnitz and Briza, with all the guns that their stubborn defence had not compelled them to sacrifice, again opened fire upon the Prussians.
The cavalry, too, devoted itself to the task of covering the retreat. The Prussian cavalry, which had been delayed by the blocking of the bridges by the artillery, and the crowding of the roads by the infantry, now appeared in the front of the pursuers, and fierce cavalry combats took place near Langenhof, Stresetitz and Problus. Though eventually overmatched, the Austrian cavalry made a noble fight, and, at the sacrifice of its best blood, materially assisted in covering the retreat of the army.
Frederick Charles, bringing up 54 guns to the heights of Wsestar and Sweti, opened fire upon the new line of Austrian artillery. The Austrian batteries replied with spirit, until the advance of the 11th Division upon Rosnitz and Briza compelled them to withdraw, with the loss of 36 guns. Still undaunted, the artillery took up a new position on the line Stösser-Freihofen-Zeigelshag. Here all available guns were brought into action, and under their fire the Prussian pursuit virtually ended. Withdrawing in excellent order to the line Placitz-Kuklena, the Austrian artillery kept up a duel with the Prussian guns on the line Klacow-Stezerek until long after darkness had set in.
The Prussian Staff History says:
The behaviour of the cavalry and the well-sustained fire of the powerful line of artillery at Placitz and Kuklena, proved that part, at least of the hostile army still retained its full power of resistance.
It is true that affairs behind this line of artillery bore a very different aspect. At first the corps had, for the most part, taken the direction of the bridges northward of Königgrätz, but were prevented from using them by the advance of the Prussian extreme left wing. This caused the different bodies of troops to become promiscuously and confusedly mingled together. The flying cavalry, shells bursting on all sides, still further increased the confusion, which reached its climax when the commandant of Königgrätz closed the gates of the fortress.
Hundreds of wagons, either overturned or thrust off from the highroad, riderless horses and confused crowds of men trying to escape across the inundated environs of the fortress and the river, many of them up to their necks in water—this spectacle of wildest flight and utter rout, immediately before the gates of Königgrätz, was naturally hidden from the view of the pursuing enemy.
A prompt pursuit would, however, have been impracticable, even if the Prussians had fully appreciated the extent of the Austrian demoralization. The concentric attacks, so magnificently decisive on the field, had produced an almost chaotic confusion on the part of the victors themselves. Owing to the direction of their attacks, the Second Army and the Army of the Elbe were “telescoped” together; and the advance of the First Army had jammed it into the right flank of the former and the left flank of the latter. At noon the front of the combined Prussian armies had been more than sixteen miles long. The front of this great host was now but little more than two miles; and men of different regiments, brigades, divisions, corps, and even armies, were now indiscriminately mingled together.
Aside from this confusion, the exhaustion of the Prussian soldiers precluded pursuit. Most of them had left their bivouacs long before dawn, and it had been a day of hard marching and hard fighting for all. Many had been entirely without food, all were suffering from extreme fatigue, and several officers had fallen dead on the field from sheer exhaustion.
As a result of the exhaustion of the Prussians and the excellent conduct of the Austrian cavalry and artillery, Von Benedek slipped across the Elbe, and gained such a start on his adversaries that for three days the Prussians lost all touch with him, and were in complete ignorance of the direction of his retreat.
Thus ended the great Battle of Königgrätz. The Prussian losses were 9,153, killed, wounded and missing. The Austrians lost 44,200, killed, wounded and missing, including in the last classification 19,800 prisoners. They also lost 161 guns, five stands of colours, several thousand muskets, several hundred wagons and a pontoon train. The sum total of the killed, wounded and missing (exclusive of prisoners) in this battle was 27,656.