The Battle of Lobositz II

By then, it was nearing 1200 hours, and the fog was receding. So, even as his second charge was ending, the king could finally see much of the flat land below and more clearly what the situation was. For the first time, he could see Browne’s entire army, which was not retreating at all, but fully ranked for an involved battle. Frederick discerned the main body behind the Morellen-Bach, which was crossable at only two bridges. The Austrian commander had been careful to charge off cannon to guard the approaches to both, belching fire into the masses of Frederick’s infantry near the Lobosch by that point.

One bridge veered off through the southern end of the low pasture to the road from Radositz and Homolka to Sullowitz. A more important second one completed the route from the latter to Lobositz. It connected Browne’s army at the Morellen-Bach above Sullowitz. The army stretched from Lobositz to Tschirskowitz, in the valley area, and was cut in two below Lobositz. Browne’s left wing cavalry was deployed in such a way to take advantage of any outflanking movement on the Austrian center by the Prussians.

At Lobositz itself, many redoubts had been dug in the last few days, complete with batteries to provide cover, and a considerable force of Austrian infantry and cavalry, commanded by Lt.-Gen. Carl Kager von Stampatch (10th Cuirassiers), and O’Donnell’s 14th Cuirassiers, just to the south of Lobositz reaching the Morellen-Bach. The advanced guard was pushed forward to the support of the Croat parties on the Lobosch. The position was strong, except in the lower ground near the Morellen-Bach: here Frederick stood a good chance of breaking through.

To partially compensate for this weak link in his lines, Browne pushed reinforcements up to that portion of his front. But there was a far more important position that the Austrians needed: the Homolka. Had Browne occupied the rise—and then held it in force—the day might have turned out much differently than it did. The Austrian light parties had withdrawn to the vineyards forward of the Morellen-Bach, their backs to Browne’s main army.

There they could be of little further use to Browne, who was hastily strengthening his right flank near Lobositz, while the king was preparing to attack thereabouts. Three regiments of bluecoats, led by Bevern, poured down into the vineyards from the Wehlhoten end of the line (about 1300 hours), while Austrian reinforcements were moving up to strengthen their hold on the valley below the Lobosch and to prepare an assault to secure the hill once and for all. The valiant Colonel Lacy, leading part of the 37th Infantry (Major-General Joseph Esterhazy) and the 40th Infantry (General Count Carl {Jung} Colloredo), with a detached body of grenadiers, was leading this effort (about 1230 hours). Bräker, in the 13th of Itzenplitz, was in the midst of this particular fight. He wrote later of his apprehension upon approaching the Austrian lines, with some of his companions falling victim to the accurate enemy fire. Moreover, “the rampart was already packed with dead and wounded.”

The Austrian irregulars took advantage of the thick vineyards to pepper the bluecoats from cover. The Prussians were left to try to knock down individual targets of an enemy who not only had the point of vantage over them, but were largely out of sight. Now the bluecoats demonstrated some genuine versatility. The British regulars of Major-General Edward Braddock had encountered a similar situation the previous year in the woods of North America. At that time, the redcoats stood to their ranks in the midst of an ambush, and tried to fight a virtually invisible enemy lurking behind rocks and trees without breaking cover. At Lobositz, the Prussians kept to their ranks for only a few minutes, then dispersed for cover to fight the enemy on his terms using his methods. That singular factor made the “playing field” more even.

This development could not help but use up cartridges prodigiously. The stroke up the Lobosch was guided by Kleist’s 27th Infantry. For this brave effort, this unit was to be well battered by the end of the day. Kleist was mortally wounded and 290 men of the regiment were killed or wounded. The carnage was not confined to one regiment. Major-General Ernst Ludwig von Kannacker’s 30th Infantry was just as hard-hit; it lost 275 on that day, most of them probably in that first charge. Even Bevern, riled up by the ferocity of the moment, when confronted with the inevitable shortage of ammunition, told the troops to use their bayonets.

Browne, by holding the Lobosch, intended to outflank the Prussian lines and drive Frederick from the field. Without the Lobosch, the king could not maintain his position. As for the Prussian Majesty, his plan was to seize Lobositz, roll up the Austrian lines, and compel Browne to depart. To prevent this distinct possibility, Browne had already ordered off Lacy. The fight at the Lobosch now started to draw in all available units on both sides.

The Prussian attack itself was with great vigor, and the whitecoats were driven back on Lobositz and Wehlhoten, while the entire Prussian left swept towards the village. Duke Ferdinand’s 5th Infantry pointed the way. It took the brunt of the artillery response from the enemy at this point, losing 98 dead and 30 wounded or missing.

Lacy fought for his position stubbornly, refusing to give way. Browne hurried three more infantry regiments forward. The 17th Infantry of Kollowrat, the 1st of the Emperor Francis Stephen (Kaiser) and the 33rd Infantry of Nicolaus Esterhazy were sent. But it so happened that the Prussian presence thereabouts was much stronger, and the fighting became especially ferocious. Lacy received a bad wound in the process, which incapacitated him. That development settled matters. With the sight of the colonel going down, most of the Croats with him took the opportunity to flee.

By about 1300 hours, with the preliminaries at an end, the contest was fully in deadly earnest. Prussian howitzers battered at the Austrians, but the latter made a sustained defense, all the more so as a steady stream of reinforcements were reaching them. Browne sent his left wing commanders orders to cross the Morellen-Bach at the bridge at Sullowitz to join the battle. Nothing daunted, the Prussian spotters on the Homolka turned more emplaced batteries upon these newcomers.

The work of the Prussian guns was most effective. The whitecoats, with heavy losses, could not fulfill orders. The movement, which might have had serious consequences for the Prussians, was thereby staved off. The battle would be decided in front of Lobositz itself. Moreover, that last exchange had used up almost all of the shot for the big guns.

By that point, the Prussian left had passed the vineyards and reached the lower ground. The Austrians were stubborn, and the Prussian command ordered forward on the double the reinforcements arriving at the Lobosch, including those of Major-General Johann Dietrich von Hülsen, and the remaining forces behind the Lobosch. The right was given the task of holding the Homolka as well as covering the Lobosch against attempts to retake it. The Austrian defense was determined, and once more a fierce firefight broke out.

Frederick decided to take a powder—just as he had done at the Battle of Mollwitz in 1741. He retired to Wchnitz, leaving the field command to Keith. Momentum was slowly ebbing from Prussian hands, making it clear the bluecoats would not get their easy victory after all. In spite of this, the stubborn Austrians were finally pressed back upon Wehlhoten. Below, some of their comrades were retiring on Lobositz itself, the guns still booming and the foot soldiers shouting, shooting, and stabbing it out at close range.

War veteran Johann Archenholtz said the fighting was so intense for a time in clearing the Lobosch the forward Prussian troops ran out of cartridges. They then “struck at the … [enemy] party with the butts of their muskets.” Some of the officers detailed men to gather up any spare ammunition from the dead and wounded, who covered the stricken ground. All of this took precious time. Prussian efforts were redoubled, and they slowly forced back the enemy. The Austrians could not now hope to win the decision, as their lines were being driven in all along the front. The heavy Prussian guns raked them mercilessly and the weight of numbers in the immediate vicinity was telling. Worse, most of Frederick’s infantry were committed, including five full regiments from Keith’s command. In the process, the battle inexorably began to swing against the still resolute Browne.

At the front of the Prussians, Major von Oelsnitz (the king’s adjutant) was providing his own inspiration by descending from the heights on to the enemy. His actions encouraged the bluecoats to take the fight to the enemy. The effort against Lobositz intensified, though Browne made a serious attempt to stay the Prussian advance outside of the village and pressed up additional men to feed a counterattack by the Austrian left to do just that. The Austrian reinforcements were slowed by the necessity of marching through the village’s narrow streets. This only aggravated the shelling by the Prussian guns. Ferdinand had chosen a decisive moment to roll his mobile artillery, including the howitzers, into the area in front of Lobositz.

The hard-pressed front line troops thus could not benefit fully from the Austrian reinforcements, since a large number simply could not reach their assigned posts. The counterattack fizzled; one source suggests this last stroke was just to “draw away the enemy’s attention” anyway while Browne pulled back his exposed right flank. The bluecoats, cheered by the sight of the enemy’s retreat, bundled forward. Worse, from about 1300 hours, isolated fires broke out in Lobositz from the shelling, but they did not become unmanageable for a couple more hours. But this forced Browne to largely abandon the place, and, with it, the key to the battle.

The Prussians pressed after the enemy, as some of the whitecoats fell back toward the “safe” side of the Morellen-Bach. Browne, never the kind to lose his head in an emergency situation, simply ordered forward the rest of the army. These new troops were hastily deployed to cover the withdrawal of their exhausted, fought-out comrades, interjecting between them and the surging bluecoats.

In this last effort, the Prussian force was composed of infantry alone (with the cavalry still trying to steady itself at the Homolka), led by the 21st Infantry of Hülsen. This particular unit was severely punished in the next few minutes. All told, it lost 277 officers and men in this final effort. Browne’s fresh men tried to hold off the enemy.

But the infuriated bluecoats, angered by the dogmatic determination of their foe, exacted a fierce revenge as they made their way through Lobositz. Those grisly final scenes of battle were enacted as quarter was neither asked for nor given on the Austrians left behind. Some threw themselves into the dark Elbe River to escape. Many drowned in the cold water.

About 1700 hours, Browne withdrew his army to Tschirakowitz. There he paused and pondered his next step. This ended the battle. The Prussians had won a hard-fought victory. Soon after the contest ended, Major Oelsnitz tracked down his master and informed him that Browne was retreating. Frederick could only ponder over this close-run affair with the Austrians. It was the first battle since Mollwitz he could have lost. Nevertheless, a council of war (a rarity for the Prussian king) was called at Wchnitz, in the shadow of the Homolka. The mildly disoriented king asked for recommendations from his generals over their next step. Some of the weak-kneed favored retreat, but young Ferdinand helped squelch such talk. The army would stay put. While the generals were huddling, an Austrian cannon shot exploded close-by, providing still more drama for this action-packed day.

While he occupied Lobositz, Frederick dispatched Bevern southward with a strong detachment (five battalions and 14 squadrons) to capture Tschirakowitz near the road to Budin. Here Browne had his magazines and army. The marshal had been debating whether to continue the march to the relief of the Saxons or fall back on Budin for the moment when word arrived of the enemy’s advance on Tschirakowitz. The proximity of the latter to his base made Browne believe the Prussian intention was to cut him off from Budin or even perhaps starve him out. Actually Bevern had no such plan. The threat alone, in the event, was sufficient.

Just about 0100 hours, October 2, Browne, having consolidated his territory, prepared to retire on Budin. Next morning, in full daylight, off the men marched. The Austrian move was not hurried, although Frederick shunned an active engagement. Browne simply reoccupied the lines he had held previously, while strengthening his hold on Leitmeritz. Later, Major-General Johann Sigismund Graf MacQuire von Innskillin was sent to check any Prussian designs on the latter. Both sides continued to cautiously maneuver.

The losses of the two sides in the battle are reckoned to have been the following: the Prussians lost 2,906 killed or wounded; the Austrians: 2,873 killed/wounded, three guns, and two battle flags. The Prussians were indeed the victors, but only in the last, heaviest hours of fighting was the battle decided.

The case could be made that the Austrians fought to a draw, although technically speaking, they had left the field of battle to Frederick. In that era, to own the battlefield after an action was tantamount to being the victor. Nevertheless, Browne’s men had been worthy opponents and the marshal himself a tough, solid leader.

The lessons were not lost on alert Prussians. Archenholtz freely admitted, “these [heroes of 1756] are no longer the same old Austrians.” At least one contemporary noted the Austrian army had used the long years of peace to “take for its own the methodology employed by the conquerors and to make itself over in their model.” It must have been patently obvious then, to the king and the Prussians, that they were in for a long war.

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