Battle of Reichenbach

King Frederick the Great sent word to his post at Neisse to forward the guns and equipment thereabouts in preparation for his long anticipated siege of the enemy forces now shut up within the Schweidnitz Compound. He then moved his men forward to take up posts for this endeavor. Dittmannsdorf was made his headquarters, and the bluecoat army was put into a half-moon position southwest of the fortress—some ten miles off in the distance—between Seiferba and Juliansdorf. Marshal Daun was, as we know, at Tannhausen, another ten miles southwest and about 20 from Schweidnitz. The latter was now reduced to trying to come up with a plan of his own to foil the Prussian designs upon the fortress. His army was deployed from Donnerau and Gross-Giersdorf, through Tannhausen, leaning over on Falkenberg. The whitecoat right was entrusted to Marshal Lacy, who was by now engaged in some sniping back and forth with the Prussian general Wied.

In this position, the marshal made himself as secure as possible. Daun could not claim ignorance of the importance of keeping a tight grip upon Schweidnitz, if at all possible. July 25, Kaunitz wrote to the marshal a communication conveying the absolute urgency of keeping fast hold upon the Schweidnitz Fortress. The ambitious Frederick had to be denied the place. If the fortress fell, the Austrians would be driven out of Silesia. There would be no further means or forces at hand to prevent this from happening. In response, Daun ordered entrenchments erected to prevent the very aggressive Prussian king from attacking his main post. This seemed to preoccupy the marshal’s time rather than the more important task of trying to relieve Schweidnitz.

Meanwhile, Frederick drove forward with his preliminaries against the place with a great will. He appointed the finest of his officers in that sort of work, Tauentzein (memorable from his staunch defense of Breslau in an earlier time) to head up his siege forces. Tauentzein was given a force of men, about 12,000 strong (composed of 21 battalions and 20 squadrons), with great expectations being looked for. The batteries of Tauentzein were of 28 24-pounders, 50 12-pounders, 20 50-pounder mortars, and 12 7-pounder howitzers. That being stated, the king fully anticipated the fall of the fortress within a few short weeks. Then the confident Frederick could proceed to clear out Silesia of the enemy and then go help Prince Henry over in Saxony. As soon as the required equipment could come forward, Tauentzein at once set to his task. August 7, he had his first parallel dug, which commenced the siege. This first effort of the siege was some “nine hundred paces from the Jauernicker Fort” at northwest Schweidnitz. The king about this time recalled Bevern from out near Glogau to escort the supply trains coming in from Neisse against light parties of the enemy.

As for the Austrian garrison shut up in Schweidnitz, they at least had an abundance of provisions and supplies within the walls of the compound; in the short term. This could only help them in the defense of Schweidnitz. As for the Prussians engaged in besieging the place, they suffered to a great degree in the initial phases of the siege, especially in view of the very energetic garrison there, from the effectiveness of their own efforts to render Schweidnitz as impregnable as possible in the days when they had the fortress. The measures that their engineers had devised were thus turned against them by Guasco & Company.

In the event, the bluecoats opened (and maintained) a fierce bombardment of Schweidnitz, but Franz Guasco himself made a determined resistance with his own resources. He defended the fortress with a tenacity and vigilance that might, under different circumstances, have caused even Frederick to admire his efforts. While the besieging forces were laboring on their works, Guasco’s garrison tried their best to interrupt the enterprise. Guasco’s force, although handpicked, was largely composed of homogenous groups, none of which had enough members to establish even a unit identity. In fact, apparently language alone was a great barrier within the ranks of Schweidnitz’s garrison. A number of different tongues were understood by the defenders, which, in combination with the above factor, served even further to separate the men into little groupings. German was, of course, the major language used, but there were also French, Italian, Hungarian, Czech, even English, among the rest. Intrigue and cliqués could not help but thrive under these conditions. For example, Major-General Ernst Friedrich Giannini, the immediate commander of the Austrian field forces within the place, was at odds with Guasco. Giannini disliked the commandant intensely and made no secret of it. Worse, Guasco was fully aware that Giannini had shared several negative communications with Marshal Daun concerning the conduct of the siege.

Back to the unfolding events. A large part of the garrison, about 5,000 men, emerged from behind Schweidnitz’s walls and attacked the bluecoats very early in the siege (night of August 7–8). The assailants forced back the parties engaged in digging siege works around Schweidnitz. The effort, although valiant, was speedily contained. Tauentzein attempted to mine under the fortress, but Guasco employed an expert of his own, Jean-Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval, and he spoiled this effort in the bud. Soon, however, hunger must force the issue, for the number of people sealed off in Schweidnitz itself meant that the food supply situation must speedily become downright critical. Simon Deodat Lefèbvre (Tauentzein’s engineer in this business) kept up the pace, while Marshal Daun stayed put right where he was, at Tannhausen, perfectly content not to interfere. His subordinates, Laudon, Lacy, Beck, were all deployed on the flanks and rear.

Lefebvre was a great believer in building both a rampart and a retaining wall on which to work overhead simultaneously. This design he would freely practice, with the Prussian king’s blessing, upon Schweidnitz. The future besieger of Schweidnitz had once penned a note to the conceiver of a device known as ‘globes,’ which could be planted to explode at critical points in tunnels, causing great damage. The correspondence was addressed to Bernhard Forest de Belidor, a French artillery/siege/mining warfare expert. The latter was decent enough to reply, giving Lefebvre some ‘pointers’ he could use later at the Siege of Schweidnitz in 1762.

Daun played the part of a thorn in Frederick’s side during these proceedings to perfection. But he could not afford to vacillate. Something which the powers that be back in Vienna had to be weary of. In short order, it became necessary to order the marshal to go relieve Schweidnitz, as Daun was in danger of “meandering.” August 10, the necessary instructions were sent to the marshal’s headquarters. It was imperative that some attempt or another be made to relieve the fortress. Austrian honor and the coming peace negotiations both demanded some satisfaction in this matter.

Daun now decided to attempt a maneuver to take some of the pressure off of Guasco. The bluecoats would have to be thrown off-balance, and supplies slipped in to shore up the faltering defenders of the fortress, particularly of ammunition. Unlike foodstuffs, there was a potential shortage in the supply of suitable shot and shell. One which could prove critical long before the food supply would ever become low. As usual, the marshal was to leave the main work of dealing with the Prussian threat to others; in this case, to Generals Beck and Lacy. The scheme was to outflank the enemy by a maneuver to round the Prussian lines in the south near Költschen and so gradually wiggle the Austrian formations up to Zobten and the rise thereabouts.

This would, of course, mean the immediate ruin to the bluecoat effort upon Schweidnitz. Beck and Lacy would start the effort upon the enemy nearby, at a rise called the Fiscaberg, where the Duke of Brunswick-Bevern (who had arrived from Neisse attended at a distance by Beck’s troopers) was in charge. This height, located near Reichenbach (about 12 miles southeast of Schweidnitz), had to be laid hold of before the Koltschen enterprise could begin.

The wheeling movement was very involved, and the only Prussian force that could bar the Austrian motion was a cavalry force of 38 squadrons under Prince Friedrich Eugene of Württemberg, deployed in and about Peterswaldau. Another block force, this one under General Werner, moved up to join his compatriots at Peterswaldau. The king would still need to keep the remaining forces of Daun busy over by Tannhausen and that region in the meanwhile. Just about the same time, the bluecoats were no doubt beginning to realize that their Oriental “allies” were going to be a No-Show in their long-projected (but never implemented) invasion of the Habsburg Empire.

As for General Beck, he and his force had been kept busy barring Moravia from the incursions of the Prussians. The Duke of Brunswick-Bevern had been consolidating his position in the hills to the south of Schweidnitz. These passes turned out to be critical for both sides, especially with the Prussian investment of Schweidnitz. General Beck, with a force of some 12,000 men at Zuckmantel, was Daun’s chief relief force in the area immediately by those hills. August 8, Beck was ordered to move from that locale in Moravia, to join up with the main Austrian army about Kloster-Kamenz.

Bevern endeavored to intercept his enemy over by Nimptsch, and by means of a night march, from Münsterberg, the previous night, in the late afternoon of August 13, the Prussians of Bevern took up post in and about Reichenbach, hard about Peilau in the process, they drove back a force from Beck’s rearguard that sought the very same ground for their camp at just about the same time. Prussian pickets pressed back the Johnnys-come-lately, and forthwith took up posts of their own at Pulzendorf and Ellgeuth. The effort paid off hadsomely. Bevern was able to bring 11 battalions and 25 squadrons to bear on the day of Reichenbach. The horse, under General Lentulus, were deployed over by the Fiscaberg. As for artillery, Bevern boasted a large force of guns, 28 heavy pieces and ten 7-pounder howitzers.

Now, suddenly, it was the turn of the bluecoats to be a thorn in Marshal Daun’s side, this in the form of Bevern and his men hard about Reichenbach. The events connected with this effort would lead directly to the aforementioned wheeling movement that would precipitate what was to be the last offensive operations of the Austrians of the war in Silesia.

So Daun ordered out Lacy to recover the rise, with Beck and Brentano, as usual, to play the roles of subordinates. Laudon was detached and sent with a body of some 20,000 men back towards the Warta to keep that area secure. Daun was to remain at Tannhausen with the main army to follow as soon as the Fiscaberg was taken. However, this last offensive effort undertaken by the Austrians in Silesia during the war, as usual, was a lot more plan than actual substance.

The whitecoat forces here totaled about 45,000 men. Of that total, some 25,000 men would constitute the main attack force, divided into 33 battalions and nine units of Austrian cavalry. Lacy reached the western end of the target rise shortly after dawn on August 16. He encamped within the vicinity of three nearby population centers (Upper-, Middle-, and Nether-Peilau) on the road to Gross Nossen, south of Reichenbach. Lacy was determined to recover the rise, and the Prussians were resolved to hang on to the height to thwart Daun’s efforts to upset the siege of Schweidnitz. The king, who was with Bevern, observed the newcomers for a time, while Lacy was busy feeling out the strength and the layout of the Prussian positions. On Lacy’s flank, Beck was positioned with his men, of 14 battalions, four cavalry regiments, and one hussar regiment (Brentano was with Lacy). Brentano boasted a force of eight battalions, four cavalry regiments, and two of the by now invaluable Croats. Now entered a modicum of deception on the part of the whitecoats. When Lacy, with nine battalions, deliberately showed his apparent intention to remain quiescent for a time (i.e., by pitching tents, cooking the men’s meals, etc.), Frederick took this view at face-value and just returned to his headquarters.

Beck’s march shortly afterwards escaped his notice (in fact his men were visible to the king’s sight but the latter apparently felt that Beck would likewise stay put). The Austrian plan was similar to that carried out by Frederick at Burkersdorf, turned in this case against the originator, with the exception that this effort was to be directed against an enemy on one rise only.

Beck’s command struck off through the thick woods, aiming to steal round and strike from the eastern side, while Lacy did his best to keep Bevern occupied on the western face. About 1700 hours, Lacy suddenly deployed his well-prepared, rested men in long lines to distract Bevern on the Fiscaberg, opening a spirited bombardment, in the meanwhile, towards the Prussian positions. Austrian cavalrymen endeavored to threaten Bevern, but he deployed riders of his own to deal with that incursion. Meanwhile, General Carl O’Donnell, with five small cavalry regiments, would act as a screen over by Nieder-Peilau against the Prussian cavalry force massed at Peterswaldau.

Lacy did not attack, he never intended to; as we have seen, his only function was to keep the enemy busy while Beck did his job. The latter’s march through intricate terrain was of necessity slow, in three individual columns, and it was long after Lacy showed his men when Beck finally got into position. The latter drove forward at once, but found the foe, complemented by swampy ground there and blockposts, ready for just such a maneuver. Prussian artillery opened up with a raking fire, under which Beck’s men became bogged down. In short order, the bluecoats occupying Dittmannsdorf and Kleutsch had been driven back.

Meanwhile, the force of General Beck, divided into three different groupings, moved out about 1430 hours. Beck’s left, of three cavalry regiments, deployed over towards Gnadenfrei, this to shield Beck’s main body from the irruptions on his left. Simbschen, meantime, in the immediate area advanced a body of infantry (and some of the jäger) to go take post in the churchyard at Oder-Peilau. From that point, they began peppering the bluecoats, which kept Bevern’s attention fixed to that vicinity while General Beck took his main force, led chiefly by the 21st Cavalry Regiment of Trautmannsdorf, on a swing round to the Girlsberg. At the latter, three regiments which were present erupted about 1750 hours. The Prussians in that post, at least initially, repulsed the first stroke, but a renewed attack was pressed home with rather more success. The bluecoats in that region, principally the 28/32 Grenadier Battalion, put up a tough resistance. Reinforcements of grenadiers promptly joined the ruckus, and, significantly, the opposing 35th Infantry of Prince Henry, suffered almost to a debilitating degree from the battle effort and had to retire. It had been visibly shaken in the drama of the moment.

In sum, the whitecoats could not fail to take advantage of the enemy’s retreat, the limited extent of it that was thereabouts, and Beck was soon at Girlsberg. There a flanking position was turned round to confront the enemy on the Fiscaberg. The Austrians set up ordnance of their own to shell the Prussian posts opposite to them. General Beck, quite naturally, assumed that both Lacy and Brentano would forthwith attack the foe in short order. The order to advance was given, but the Prussians before him, who were actually not engaged just then in any other fight, instead sharply repulsed Beck’s men when they were launched in a short while. As for General Brentano, his “attack” made little forward progress at all. The bombardment by the Prussian guns in the area where Brentano’s men were was sufficiently intense that the whitecoats could not get free from the ground about Nieder-Peilau, although O’Donnell’s cavalry sure did its part. There was more. Brentano’s men did unhitch their guns, over on the rise called the Sampertsberg. Brentano failed utterly to attack the foe with his infantry.

Subsequently, Beck’s attacks all miscarried, Bevern rushing reinforcements (a total of about 25 squadrons of fresh cavalry) to the scene from the still quiet western face, knowing what the enemy had really intended now. In the meanwhile, O’Donnell was making the most of the opportunity offered to him. The Austrian horse emerged into the streets of Nieder-Peilau late in the afternoon, about 1600 hours. The horse accompaniment of Brentano galloped over to join up, and the whitecoat cavalry now formed up in that immediate vicinity with much more on its collective mind than just screening the army from the incursions of Prussian cavalry.

At the appearance of their foe and the relatively weak cavalry screen, Bevern and Lentulus’s riders erupted into full bore action as quickly as they could. This charge was a drawn-out affair, participated in by not just Bevern’s horse, a composite grouping under Lt.-Col. Karl Philipp von Owstein (consisting of some 700 men), but also by the 13 squadrons that General Lentulus was bringing with him to the scene. The ensuing action was short-lived but sharp, and it was noticeable. The bluecoat riders sped past the Spittelberg and over by Sampertsberg. Initially, the fight favored the Prussians, but the support of the Austrian ordnance in the short run eventually forced Bevern’s and Lentulus’ riders to recoil. General O’Donnell was thus enabled to try to rally his shaken cavalry screen against this backdrop.

It was a good thing that O’Donnell was allowed a respite in which to rally his forces. This was very shortly, by about 1800 hours, to bear fruition with the reality that Brentano and Lacy had no real intention of attacking, Frederick turned his attention to the one Austrian force before him, small as it was, that was apparently in earnest. Accordingly, the king himself “riding the exceptionally fast white Cossack horse Caesar was in the lead,” bringing a force of Prussian cavalry galloping from Peterswaldau over the way to Reichenbach on a mission.

Prussian Horse Artillery, under Major von Anhalt, making a rare appearance in the war, then opened a punishing fire right into the soon serried ranks of the Austrian cavalry, emptying saddle after saddle as well as decimating the enemy’s horse.

The Prussian reinforcements moved quickly to the scene. To elaborate, a large part of the bluecoat force making its way towards Reichenbach was composed of foot soldiers, whose advent was of necessity to be slower. Three full regiments of the cuirassiers, including the 8th Cuirassiers of Seydlitz, galloped to the area as fast as their horses could carry them. The newcomers (about 1830 hours) rolled across the Hühn Bach, striking and rolling over the already shaken Austrian cavalry. Five Austrian battle flags were captured in this particular tussle.

While Bevern’s cavalry again took O’Donnell’s force under fire, Lentulus’ command (the Duke of Württemberg Dragoons, the Flanns Dragoons, and a hussar force) also reappeared, after a suitable interval. The latter sought at once to overwhelm the Austrian right, which pressed hard against the whitecoats, causing them much anxiety. Resistance was determined to be sure, but the efforts of General O’Donnell and of his cavalry screen were all in vain this time. The Prussian superiority in numbers here was just too compelling to resist. Added to all of this was the fact that the attack from the front and right flank simultaneously was threatening to squeeze the defenders like a vise, which did nothing but aggravate the situation. The Austrians soon reeled back towards Nieder-Peilau in short order. At the latter post, almost entirely within the confined spaces of the little town, stood the beleaguered infantry of General Brentano. The horse were simultaneously leaving the field in confusion. On the other hand, the foot soldiers, with more to shelter behind, and with plenty of cracks and crevices to fire from behind, immediately put the pursuing Prussian cavalry at a distinct disadvantage. The fire of the infantry thereabouts quickly brought the Prussian pursuit to a screeching halt.

All of this had to be visible to the eyes of Marshal Daun, who was, at that moment, hard by the village of Habensdorf. It must have been clear that Austrian efforts to secure a rescue route in to Schweidnitz were going up in literal smoke. Different riders coming and going throughout the course of the battle must have filled Daun and his entourage with some sense of uneasiness.

Frederick, by then, had also figured out what the whitecoats were doing. Earlier he had returned to his lines in the north, believing that Lacy had no intention of trying an attack on that day. Then, later, he heard the sounds of cannonading to the south near Reichenbach, although he was still hesitant to believe that the Austrians were stirring. When the firing failed to die down, the king hustled off reinforcements to go help Bevern. The forces dispatched raced to the aid of the bluecoats near to Reichenbach.

Bevern, in the meanwhile, proceeded to repel Beck’s best efforts, and Lacy unaccountably failed to give aid to his subordinate. Now word reached the scene that Frederick was after all coming to Bevern’s rescue, and Beck, seeing no gain for all his wasted labors here, drew back to Tannhausen, accompanied by the Lacy-Brentano force (Frederick sent horsemen on ahead to strike a blow against Lacy and deployed some horsed artillery to lob shells at the latter). General Andreas Panovsky’s Walloon Dragoons charged forward and brought the intruders up short in heavy fighting, but the extent of Frederick’s force convinced the Austrian commander that it was time to go. This was about 1900 hours. Lacy’s withdrawal ended the Battle of Reichenbach; which was actually more like a heavy skirmish by the standards of Zorndorf and Torgau.

But this was Daun’s last legitimate effort to rescue his trapped garrison in Schweidnitz from certain surrender. Guasco & Company were now left to their own paltry resources. The next morning, the joy fires of the foe told the disheartened Guasco all that he needed to know. He realized now that his position was nothing short of dire.

The losses of the two sides in the Battle of Reichenbach were the following: the Austrians lost 140 killed, 373 wounded, and 407 missing, a total of 920 men; the Prussian loss was 997 men from all causes. Marshal Daun, after celebrating the “victory” of Beck and reorganizing his army, fell back on Warta and the Silberberg. Reichenbach, which was claimed as a victory by both the Austrians and the Prussians, was the final battle of the war waged by the army under Frederick’s own command. In a war which seemed to be winding up in a stalemate, it is perhaps fitting that the final battle between the two major antagonists should be so considered. Now Prince Ferdinand and Prince Henry still had some unfinished business of their own. The Austrians were also still stirring, even after August 16. Marshal Daun sent a dispatch rider to Guasco’s lines. He had no recourse but to inform the latter that this last effort to save Schweidnitz was an utter failure, in spite of the “victory” of Reichenbach.

Guasco, as a result, was finally given free rein to seek an honorable surrender for Schweidnitz on the best terms available from the Prussians. From Warta, meanwhile, with one weary eye turned towards possible enemy pursuit, the marshal’s army commenced, one more time, to drift backwards. August 19, the Austrians withdrew in earnest, by Schafeneck, on to Neurode.

The king’s army followed up, placing detachments at and about Habendorf and Weiselsdorf. The only option left to Guasco at this point was to hold out as long as he was able to and could offer a reasonable defense. Frederick had resorted to mining under the Austrian defenses of Schweidnitz, but this turned out to be one of the king’s most neauseating, least-rewarding, occupations. He was neither good at it, nor did he have the patience to be able to practice it well. Lastly, conducting sieges were so rare an occurrence for the king, that he lacked practice as well. On the other hand, the successful siege/capture of Schweidnitz, even by the slow machinations of mining, would finally salt away the Prussian occupation of Silesia for themselves. In effect, achieving the main reason for war in the first place, especially in view of Maria Theresa’s efforts to regain Silesia from the beginning.


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