The Prussian Campaign of 1762 in Saxony I

In the middle of January 1762, Prince Henry experienced a bout of illness, which caused him to enquire whether he could be replaced, at least temporarily, by another officer, preferably Seydlitz or General Forcade, but the king advised that his brother should be able to recover in time to assume field command in the spring, thus rendering a successor in that event unnecessary. In the end, Henry was confined to his bed at his headquarters for more than a month’s time, but when the new campaign opened, he was indeed able to exercise field command in Saxony. The fact was, the ailing prince had been given charge in Saxony, more or less to hold it, while his royal brother sought to conclude the war in Silesia all while recovering a secure hold on the province. Prince Henry was quick to chastise his sibling for Frederick’s plan to take away Platen’s corps for his own use at the start of the new campaign, although the king had promised him he would have control of Eugene of Württemberg’s men as a consolation.

Prince Henry had just cause for his complaint. The enemy opposed to him and his men (some 25,000 strong) consisted of some 19,000 Imperialist troops, along with about 44,500 Austrians, all under the overall command of Serbelloni, from March 29, 1762. Daun’s appointment of command of the Austrian forces in Silesia, and the retention of both Laudon and Lacy for the movements of the army in the province of Silesia, had left a vacuum for Saxony. It was clear as it could be in 1762 that the war would be finally won or irrevocably lost in Silesia. Saxony was very much of a side theater by this point. Moreover, both sides knew it. The upshot was, Daun was not going to send one of his “good” commanders to Saxony, feuding with each other or not. Vis-a-vis, Laudon and Lacy. As a result, Serbelloni it would be. Serbelloni’s men were deployed over the winter of 1761–1762 entirely within the province of Saxony, but Prince Henry’s goal from the beginning of the campaign was to try to reclaim the territory around Döebeln, the very same position that Daun had been able to wrestle from him late in the campaign of 1761. General Luzinsky was occupying Pegau, while other Allied forces of General Kleefeld were deployed all the way to Zeitz.

Over on the Prussian side, the overall situation was hardly better. One of Prince Henry’s pet peeves involved the treatment of the Saxons and of their homeland. He wanted this to be as humane as was possible under the circumstances. More gifted with a sense of fair play than his older brother, probably because the latter wore the crown and thus had to be less egalitarian, the prince would much rather work in conjunction with the Saxons than against them. In effect, Henry had rather more sympathy with the occupied province than his sibling, not the least because the king’s last appreciable memory of Saxony was in the wake of the terrible Battle of Torgau in 1760. Not that Prince Henry was entirely free of difficulties in this respect either.

Among the seemingly myriads of difficulties for Prince Henry, one involved the “Free Corps.” These often despised units had really been formed to extract as much gain as they could from their environment. They existed much more for themselves, in the narrow sense, than for any measure of military gain or renown they could achieve in the broader sense. Prince Henry made no secret of the fact he did not like these units, and had scant use for them as a general rule. In a similar situation, the prince also had scant use for Frederick’s new favorite, the thoroughly odious Major von Anhalt. This was in spite of his reluctance to admit open resentment over the new aide’s rise. Still, Henry seems to have made a concerted effort to restrict his dealings with this particular individual to as few as possible, and, in fact, during the 1762 campaign, Henry had arranged for the major to be whisked away to Leipzig as soon as was possible in one of their few dealings.

The occasion of this particular exchange was in Anhalt being dispatched by the king as a sort of ad hoc administrator of the territory occupied by the prince’s army in Saxony.

This latest development had been prompted by the rather usual desire of the Prussian monarch to pick Saxony as clean as was possible of its resources, financial and otherwise. It was patently obvious by this stage of the war that Prince Henry had neither the desire, nor the actual intention, of doing so. Frederick had to be cognizant of that fact. Thus the sending forth of the detested Anhalt to do what Prince Henry would not. Interestingly, one of the many men who would run afoul of Anhalt in his duties was the famous Baron Friedrich von Steuben. Steuben had been a staff officer previous to this and had spent some time earlier in the war with the Free Battalion Mayr. Later, after the end of the war, Steuben would make his way, by and by, to America, where he was recommended, through the auspices of the American patriot Benjamin Franklin no less, as a Prussian Lt-General under Frederick the Great, which, of course, he had never been. It was a lie that Steuben himself actively promoted. Still, ‘General’ Steuben would be instrumental, as it worked out, in helping reform the American Continental Army under George Washington in the American Revolution, utilizing the Prussian close order drill, among other things, along the way. This effort would play no small rôle in the ultimate American victory in the war over the British George III. The very same George III who had taken the throne in the twilight of the Seven Years’ War.

Meanwhile, back to the events in Saxony in 1762. It was an Austrian move opposite to him that first caused Henry to go over to the offensive in the first place. The enemy were fearful of possible Russian intrusion into their homeland, as we have observed, and so transferred some troop formations from the Saxon front to stiffen the Austrian position in Silesia to confront the Prussians and the Russians. This weakened the Austro-Imperialist position in Saxony, however, and thus allowed Henry the opportunity to strike.

The enemy opposed to Prince Henry had been in motion in the meanwhile. Stolberg’s forward elements occupied Penig and Chemnitz in early May, while Prince Henry occupied the region all the way up to Oschatz (May 5), looking for signs of the enemy close-by. The Allied left flank, led by Major-General Johann Franz von Zedtwitz, was composed of about 4,000 men in all. Zedtwitz neglected, however, the most basic of defensive measures, including leaving unmanned guard posts open during daylight hours. Such carelessness would not go unpunished.

In the event, Henry was resolved to carry out his enterprise here, if at all possible. Late on May 11, the Prussians moved in preparing to strike at the Allies in the area. An Austrian guard post over by Nieder-Striegis was overrun by Prince Henry’s men during the twilight hours, and, before 0700 hours next day, May 12, the main bluecoat forces, summarily divided into four separate columns for the occasion, swept forward against the unsuspecting foe over by Döebeln.8 General Kanitz and his men pushed on to Gadewitz, while Seydlitz, with a second column (this one composed of some 37 squadrons of fine Prussian cavalry and some infantry), struck from near Mockritz leaning over at Zschornewitz. Kleist on the far left rolled forward between Knobelsdorf and Nauβlitz. Finally, the Prussians of General Alt-Stutterheim made their way at Stormitz. All but Kleist were scheduled to make a frontal charge against the Allies, but before the others could even approach, the advanced guard of Kleist’s men crossed the Mulde River suddenly and bagged an entire battalion of Austrians as prisoners (approximately 43 officers and 1,536 rank-and-file). The particulars follow.

The beginning of the fray is debatable. Apparently in the confusion of the moment, Kleist’s gunners accidently fired off a shot. This precipitated the attack. Seydlitz felt this action was intentional, and apparently with the avowed aim of seeking glory for Kleist. Of course, this charge was vehemently denied. Nevertheless, Döebeln turned out to be a pleasant interlude for the bluecoats. Moreover, what a surprise when one of the captives turned out to be General Zedtwitz himself, captured over near Littdorf while leading his cavalry in a hopeless counterattack to stem the enemy’s progress. A short, but involved effort followed, compelling the Allies to retreat, leaving behind nearly 50 percent of their men as prisoners, along with five pieces of artillery. The survivors scurried to safety at and about Dippoldiswalde. Bluecoat casualties on this occasion amounted to some 60 men.

One of the backlashes of this fight was the feud that grew out of the altercation between the persons of Generals Kleist and Seydlitz. Both men resented the actions of the other on this occasion. Perhaps both men, seeing the end of hostilities coming and wanting more opportunities for glory, were a tad shortsighted on this occasion. In the final analysis, the Prussian effort was indeed a success, but one which did not lend itself to an easy follow up by the victors, especially as Prince Henry’s army lacked any means at all to secure reinforcements.

Serbelloni, for his part, was visibly shaken by the reverse. The Allies held posts west of the Elbe, which included a number constituting a stranglehold on the Saxon capital; they were thus able to hold interior lines from Dresden extending over towards Dippoldiswalde.

Meanwhile, this stroke allowed Prince Henry to separate the Austrians and Imperialists, and prevented their reuniting for a time. But Henry did not stop there. Not satisfied with the status quo, Prince Henry now strove to eliminate the Austrian left flank forces altogether. On May 15, Freiberg fell to him, and two days later, Prussian troopers seized the rises near Pretzschendorf (giving Prussian artillery enough range to hammer the enemy’s post at Dippoldiswalde). From Freiberg, Henry sent off a light detachment of 500 hard-riding cavalry under Lt. Friedrich Wilhelm von Roeder through Öderan to check out the Imperialists.

Henry began to run short of men for this new offensive, as he had been forced to make heavy detachments to contain the Imperialists of Prince Stolberg to the west of Chemnitz in order to protect his rear while the whitecoats were being squeezed out of Freiberg. All Stolberg wanted at this stage was to fall back on Zwickau. By now Serbelloni (in charge of the disunited armies) was pleading for reinforcements from Daun over in Silesia, all in vain. The reverse was occurring.

Reports had been filtering in to Prussian headquarters for some time now that the Austrians were either in the process of, or were about to, transfer some of their formations from the Saxon theater of war to boost their troop total in Silesia in order to fulfill their campaign requirements thererabouts. The consequences for the Allies could have been severe. But Prince Henry’s request for new troops also fell on deaf ears, snubbed by the king outright; the latter taking a hard line here because he felt the decisive actions were yet to be in Silesia (which, of course, they were). Now Prince Henry, for his part, did feel that he could hold his present line, while slowly building up strength for yet another offensive. At this stage, though, one of Henry’s officers, Colonel Christian Friedrich von Bandemer, tried to get hold of Chemnitz. Stolberg was not inclined to leave, and his force on the spot, led by General Luzinsky, drove the surprised bluecoats back all the way to Öderan with heavy losses in men and ordnance (including some 500 men and 15 officers), all of this due to a roving Imperialist force (May 21).

The particulars follow. Bandemer had pressed towards the vicinity of Chemnitz on May 19. Luzinsky’s vanguard, led by General Kleefeld, rolled through Lichtenstein, while Vecsey moved with a couple of Austrian hussar regiments through Glauchau. The bluecoats thereabouts were obviously overextended, and were thus at the disadvantage in any contest of arms, even with the generally inferior Imperialists as foes. About 0300 hours, on May 21, Luzinsky struck, with Kleefeld and Vecsey alike providing the impetus to push the foe back. Bandemer had 300 men (from Lehwaldt’s 14th Infantry) with one cannon placed in Chemnitz to provide a buffer against the Imperials. Luzinsky’s charge against Chemnitz was developed at this point in three distinct columns, with the Austrian hussar regiments overthrowing Major-General Johann Ernst von Schmettau’s 4th Prussian Cuirassier Regiment, losing “ten officers and 317 men in its advance post at Chemnitz.” The Prussians were forced, after a brief tussle, to recoil, leaving behind some 800 men and seven guns (four 12-pounders, two light 6-pounders, and one 7-pounder howitzer) in the hands of the Imperialists. Imperial losses amounted to one officer and 35 men.

This was both one of the best (and, sadly for them, the very last) largely Imperialist successes of the whole war, and the benefit of laudatory congratulations were promptly bestowed upon Serbelloni by Vienna, although the commander had been no where near the field of action. It is worth noting, for much of the campaign, Serbelloni did his best to run his command almost by proxy from Dresden, an unworkable situation any way one looked at it. The biggest problem was in the strung out amount of time that Serbelloni required to get things done. What with messages coming and going from Dresden and all. There was a nearly fatal flaw. Unfortunately, with an enemy of the caliber of Prince Henry, the Allies needed to strike while the iron was hot. Additionally, Stolberg, lacking direct instructions, unaccountably failed to follow up his success, and Henry, taking advantage of the enemy’s reluctance to deploy troops, simply sent new troops under “Green” Kleist and Seydlitz to the scene. It was likely that at least part of the Allied reasons for not promptly following up their victory had to do with the Imperialist lack of reliable light forces, while the Austrians had just culled their light troops due to the aforementioned budget cuts. The effort to regain light formations in the Austrian service was underway, of course, but would not bear fruit for a while yet. The upshot was, Stolberg was left in an exposed, very vulnerable condition. Even worse, there was very little he could do about it.

Under the circumstances, it was Stolberg’s turn to retreat; he abandoned Chemnitz and fell back forthwith on Baireuth. The incident had produced reprecussions over in the Prussian camp. Bandemer had been relieved and Kanitz sent to take his place. Coming along for the journey, so to speak, was Major von Anhalt, sent forth to join Kanitz’ command under the guise of an adviser. The situation was apparently under control, although Henry wrote to Frederick (from Pretzchendorf) on May 20 that he had less than 30,000 men with him now. Moreover, the enemy were not going into hibernation. Colonel Török rudely beat up a Prussian force, including three full squadrons of Prussian cavalry and some 300 infantry, over by Freiberg (May 26). The bluecoats fled, leaving a large baggage train and 80 prisoners in Török’s hands. After a week or so of general inactivity, Austrian troops, under General Kleefeld, counterattacked under cover of night (May 31–June 1), crashing into Colonel Dingelstedt’s command, forcing the outnumbered bluecoats back from Dippoldiswalde’s outskirts on to Waldheim, even taking some 189 prisoners in the process. Kleefeld had 46 casaulties. However, the effort had only limited success elsewhere. Prince Henry was thus enabled to hold up his foe’s designs.

He now received reinforcements, although not from Silesia at all. The withdrawal of the Swedes from the north had released troops for use elsewhere; part of this force—Colonel Belling’s cadre of excellent troops—had made its way, by and by, down to strengthen Prince Henry’s forces in Saxony. Unfortunately, Austrian reinforcements also began to arrive, but Daun had no intention of diverting large numbers of troops to the Saxon theater at this stage when Cherneyshev’s Russian force was known to be nearing Silesia. Henry did maintain heavy cavalry patrols operating around his right to keep the enemy on that side at bay, and to prevent the Austrians and Imperialists from linking up. Kleist’s and Seydlitz’ troopers often ranged into northwest Bohemia in isolated raiding parties to keep the enemy as much off balance as possible. This strategy, although effective, wore heavily on the cavalry horses (to complicate matters in this respect, Frederick refused to supply Henry with additional mounts, as the king wished to husband them for the high-priority Silesian campaign). Because of this factor, as well as the increasing numbers of troops opposed to him under Marshal Daun, Prince Henry became reluctant to press the cavalry horses more than necessary.

Moreover, requests from the prince directed to the person of the king were met by equally terse replies from Frederick to the effect he was already deeply indebted to some horse dealers in Berlin and vicinity and that Henry and his men, after all, must learn to subsist on less. Over on the Allied side, meanwhile, Stampatch came forward in late June with 15,000 more men to stiffen Serbelloni, giving him more than 60,000 troops. As a result of this new strength of the foe, Prince Henry was unable to mount a major offensive for much of this period.

That soon changed. In the end of June, Seydlitz and Belling were dispatched to shove the Imperialists further westward. Stolberg then fell back before them, and Seydlitz obviously lacked the speed, due to his composite cavalry-infantry force, to catch up. The bluecoats reached Zwickau, and there Stolberg tried to turn the tables upon his tormentors. Prince Henry discerned at once what he was up to, and Kleist’s hussars drove off the enemy. Stolberg was thereby foiled.

But Stolberg was not the only Allied commander in motion. Serbelloni had tried to take advantage of the absence of Seydlitz and Kleist by attacking the Prussian lines at his front in two geographic places: Wilsdruf and Frauenstein. General Hülsen held the latter, while Wilsdruf’s defenders were bolstered by Henry himself. Defenders at both spots, under these circumstances, repelled Serbelloni’s blows. Nothing much further happened until mid–July, when Stolberg made an attempt to link up with Serbelloni just south of Dresden, but Seydlitz and Belling smashed his left and rear. Almost as a postscript, “Green” Kleist, who was returning from Bohemia after a raid, rolled up the right.

This was enough! Stolberg withdrew, his army now in pieces. He made his way to Nuremberg and did not bother Henry again for quite a while. Prince Henry was interested in retaking Dresden, which might have been feasible with more men, but more sensible aspirations prevailed. Under the radar, operations instead assumed a static pose for a time. Again, in late July, Seydlitz and Kleist moved into Bohemia, going after the vital enemy bases at Lobositz and Leitmeritz. Seydlitz was leading a cavalry force of 18 full squadrons, endeavoring all the while to link up with “Green” Kleist. The two bodies of men successfully rendezvoused at Johnsdorf (August 1). The total force the duo could muster was 36 squadrons of horse and six battalions, approximately 8,500 men in all. The mission of this combined force was to go range into Bohemia, creating confusion for the Austrians in their own backyard. There was more to the tale than that.

The Prussian Campaign of 1762 in Saxony II

The Prussians were after more than just a nuisance raid or two. Tearing up property, looting, raping citizens, might all help demoralize the civilian population in the affected areas all right, at least to an extent, but the destruction of the Austrian magazines in Northern Bohemia would compel the whitecoats to give up Saxony. At least in the short run. This last one was a most desirable outcome. The expedition unfolded accordingly, General Kanitz rolled into Sebastienberg (August 1), about the same time, Seydlitz with his body of men ranged to Komotau. The enemy thereabouts, under our old friend Török, slowly pulled back, confronted on his side by the appearance of Kleist, who was at Johnsdorf almost before the Allies realized it. Seydlitz & Company made a juncture, then pressed on Dux. Some of the bluecoats made it first to Ossegg, other forces drove the enemy scouts to and through Brüx.

But the enemy, led thereabouts by Count Löwenstein, did not come to blows. This time, the duo failed a mission, finding Löwenstein firmly emplaced at Teplitz. “Green” Kleist wanted to attack at once, proposing the very bold plan of striking fully at the enemy on August 1, before they ascertained the presence of the bluecoats and before the Allies had withdrawn to a post where they could put up a decent defense. In their present state, Löwenstein’s force was both understrength and very unsteady for battle. But the bold Prussian stroke for August 1 was thwarted by the normally very bold General Seydlitz. Seydlitz, unaccountably, insisted on a one-day grace to allow the infantry time enough to arrive. This delay enabled Löwenstein to repel the initial Prussian assault when it came, promptly forcing the Prussians to beat a retreat back to base. The Allies left 165 men in the clutches of the enemy. The upshot was, the foe held him cold and Prince Henry was most certainly disappointed.

As for Löwenstein, his command was most typical of the field formations that the Allies could field for this last campaign of the war in Saxony. Almost entirely bereft of light cavalry, even the “regular” cavalry formations, unlike their Prussian counterparts, were often very much understrength. As for General Seydlitz, he had seen little service (at least in a military sense) since the field of Kunersdorf in 1759. “Seydlitz’s health was also so poor that he often said of himself … the prince could not always depend upon him.”

Nothing daunted, the prince’s command was nothing if not resilient. The bluecoats were unbuckled upon Neuhof, leaning over at Preschen, which movement was well screened by the cavalry of Belling. The Prussians did not lack for confidence, and it was a worried Count Löwenstein who sent a dispatch rider galloping to General MacQuire, requesting the prompt dispatch of reinforcements to help out his hard-pressed command. At the same time, he shifted his forces to as favorable a post as possible for the forthcoming bluecoat attack.

Meanwhile, during the over night, the bluecoat cavalry tried its very best to earn its reputation here by putting as much pressure on the enemy as was possible. Under cover of darkness, the bluecoats commenced assembling for attack the next morning, beginning their preparation at about 2200 hours. While the Allies kept within their lines during the night, their foes were moving into attack position, maneuvering to make an effort to drive away the enemy. The Belling Hussars about this time gained possession of the Wachloderberg and vicinity. By about 0400 hours, the Allies, not willing to wait for the enemy to strike, unleashed a large cavalry attack to try to drive Belling off of his post.

The Prussian march was still moving up, which commenced at about 0400 hours on August 2. “Green” Kleist, leading a force of six full battalions of infantry and 18 squadrons of fine cavalry, moved round towards the eastern side of Löwenstein’s position hard by the little village of Hundorf. As for the main attack, it was to be entrusted to General Seydlitz, with a force of some five battalions and another 18 squadrons of cavalry. The front of the Allied position was covered by marshy ground, and dotted with little ponds. This was probably the best possible position in which to await attack, particularly when the enemy just happened to be Prussians. In the event, Seydlitz’ men erupted by Ullersdorf, from where they were screened from enemy detection by swarms of light troops flung out before them. The enemy, who had so few of the valuable light troops, were indeed caught by surprise. The move up was, of course, in the predawn darkness, and Löwenstein was thus almost entirely blind to the intentions of his enemy. In all fairness, the commander tried his best, but the budget cuts, well…

At this point, the initial Austrian cavalry charge pressed Belling off from his new post on the Wachloderberg. The Benedict Daun [27th] Cuirassiers, along with the Battyány (7thDragoons) and the 23rd Cuirassiers of Stampa, fighting all the while, played a prominent part in this repulse of the Prussian cavalry. Infantry support was provided by Major-General Carl Clemens Pellegrini, who rushed to the scene with elements of the Austrian 33rd and 15th Infantry Regiments. The latter also was insightful enough to send intelligence to some nearby Hungarian regiments, those of Gyulai and O’Kelly, that their presence was required forthwith. “Green” Kleist, in the meantime, had made his way towards the Wachloderberg to help Belling out if possible. But his Prussian force was met by the aforementioned mixture of Allied infantry and cavalry, which interrupted his mission. A short, but sharp, tussle resulted in the repulse of the bluecoats. The initial Prussian line was thus met and turned back, and the bluecoats withdrew as was their want a short way to the rear. Their foe advanced, led by the Gyulai Hungarian unit, which, although having shot off its ammo, was advancing with drawn sabers, straight at the vaunted forces of General Seydlitz.

The bluecoats were summarily driven back. The Austrian stroke of Gyulai & Company was checked forthwith by the second Prussian line, which had planted itself in the village of Kradrop hard-by. The encouraged Allies now surged forward, nonetheless, and finally defeated the Prussians, who skeddadled towards Dux (about 0800 hours). Count Löwenstein’s force could not pursue, again because of the utter lack of light troops.

The Prussian loss in this action was 558 men, 14 officers, and two pieces of artillery. The Austrians lost about an equal number: 667 men from all causes. Under the circumstances, this was a largely Pyrrhic victory. Nevertheless, the Prussians had to inevitably abandon any hope of further progress into Bohemia and withdraw from the province (August 5). Seydlitz’s shortcomings as a commander of a composite infantry-cavalry force, indeed, shone crystal clear in the affair of Teplitz. But it was equally obvious that Serbelloni would not be the man to reclaim the Saxon lands from the great foe. Shortly, Serbelloni was to be ordered back to Vienna.

Hadik replaced Serbelloni in command in Saxony. He had orders to do little more than hold his ground against the enemy wherever the latter was found. The Allies had not quite 60,000 men in Saxony as of the end of August, while Prince Henry was leading some 33,000 men. General Hülsen, Hadik’s old nemesis (who was by this point looking for little more than a way to retire gracefully from the king’s service) was ensconced in Wilsdruf. Prince Henry’s main force was still about, and the only sizable urban area in Allied hands (and thus not in the clutches of the Prussians) by this stage happened to be Dresden and vicinity.

Hadik rolled into Dresden on September 7, and almost immediately discovered that he would be sharing the command of the Imperialists with Stolberg. Worse, Serbelloni did not exactly appreciate being relieved of his command in the midst of a campaign. He harranged Hadik for the latter’s “lack of respect” regarding the transfer of power. Then, after venting against Hadik for what he perceived to be an unjustice committed against him personally, Serbelloni abruptly took his leave of the theater of war. Serbelloni was obviously resentful over being replaced. Nor was that all. He also failed to inform Hadik where the forces under his new command were, what their strength was, or even where the enemy were located in the country thereabouts.

But Hadik, one of the better of the Allied “minor” generals of the war, resolved to do his best under the troubling circumstances he had been dealt. He galloped out with a small entourage to determine for himself, in person, where his forces were and just where the enemy were to be found. On September 21, accordingly, Hadik duly sent a communication to Vienna about his future intentions (something which Serbelloni had been noticeably neglectful in doing throughout his tenure as commander). In short, Hadik was planning to take advantage of the Prussian concentration on the campaign in Silesia by launching an involved offensive along the whole front of the places where he was in charge. Hadik’s first move had been to call up the entire force to his aid, concentrating his troops south of Dresden, and simultaneously requesting reinforcements from Marshal Daun over in Silesia. Hadik took part of his force, concentrating on the Allied right wing, led by Generals Ried and Wied, which sought to keep the attention of Prince Henry and of his army fixed to enemy movements through Eastern Saxony, in the Tharandter Wald region.

The main impetus of the offensive was directly north across the Bohemian border, consisting of forces led by Count Löwenstein and Campitelli. The bluecoats opposite to this encroachment, under the charge of “Green” Kleist, were deployed at Kortenstein. The latter hitched backwards at once, with little contact to be had with the intruders from Bohemia. Kleist got to Seyde, although the main force, led by both Seydlitz and “Green” Kleist, was, in fact, at Dittersbach. On September 29, the main Austro-Imperialist force, of Löwenstein and Campitelli, went back to the attack. Allied artillery, set up and sited in to inflict maximum punishment upon the enemy forces opposite, commenced belching fire. In sharp fighting, Löwenstein led the Allied left to the Freiberger Walde, and even encroached briefly upon the town of Freiberg. Meanwhile, the forces of Campitelli, pressing the Allied right, proceeded over by the Burkersdorf area (located some 21⁄2 miles northwest of Frauenstein; not to be confused with the more famous Burkersdorf in Silesia). The Allies converged on the positions held by Prince Henry’s Prussian forces. The latter were outnumbered, and, meanwhile to the northeast, the diversionary attacks of the small Allied forces had continued on September 29.

Ried’s force stormed forward and turned the enemy opposite to him (over by Wilsdruf) out of the lines of abatis thereabouts. Prince Henry’s forces were outnumbered all right, and if Ried & Company should happen to be successful on the eastern side of Saxony, the entire Prussian position in Saxony would be in grave danger of being compromised. Other Allied forces erupted over by Weisteritz, under General Buttlar. The Allied advance of Hadik’s forces in that area were met head-on by a powerful Prussian counterattack directed at the Allied position at Ober-Cunnersdorf. Next morning, September 30, Hadik was fully prepared to renew his offensive effort. But, during the night of September 29–30, Prince Henry had withdrawn from his forward posts. In short, Prince Henry disengaged and withdrew to a line Meissen-Freiberg-Brand; here he was able to hold his own, although the enemy considerably outnumbered him. Thus, although he had been compelled to withdraw from a position he had held all summer, Henry was actually in a better position than before. As for Hadik, he appears to have been rattled by the proceedings. He was as confused by victory as by defeat on this occasion. In short, the Prussians had been pressed back a way all right, but Freiberg remained in Prince Henry’s hands for the moment.

In contrast to the hectic pace of military operations in the end of September, there were few operations in the first part of October, although some movements were being planned. Prince Henry made what preparations he could to face the offensive he knew was coming. As for Hadik, he was resolved to take another crack at pressing the bluecoats out of their lines over by Freiberg. On October 14, the enemy again struck the Prussian right flank, here led by General Syburg. The bulk of Hadik’s attack force was sent this way, while General Hülsen—leading the Prussian left—was distracted by an outright enemy diversion. The latter was mounted courtesy of Ried, and was primarily designed to keep the general pinned more or less behind the Triebisch. Now Buttlar, joined by reinforcements under the charge of General MacQuire, pressed from Conradesdorf, trying to break in upon Freiberg.

Stolberg brought his Imperialist brood over towards Freiberg as well. His advanced guard, under the command of General Kleefeld, pushed forward against the bluecoats, here led locally by Colonel Belling, striking them hard about Mönchenfrei. Belling hitched backwards a short distance to Erbischof, but his Prussians still had fight left in them. Their resistance stiffened, abruptly forcing Kleefeld to go back the way he had come, with the bluecoats following on his heels. It certainly appeared that Prince Henry had no intention of “going gentle into that good night.”

In the event, the Allies settled down facing the Prussian posts over by Tuttendorf, which the bluecoats were holding on to overnight close by Freiberg. Henry’s positions astride the Mulde were further pressed by General Luzinsky, who had in the interim set up his ordnance and commenced blasting away at Prussian positions on the Weissenborn Heights. This action naturally kept the majority of the enemy’s attention fixed to that locale over by Freiberg, especially as to what might be transpiring. October 14, General Kleefeld struck the opponent, directly opposite to him, in a virtual repeat of his previous effort, which, this time, turned out to a better conclusion for him than before. Prussian defenses, ground down in the previous few weeks, now fragmented in short order, and Henry’s men fell back, leaving Freiberg to finally fall into the unsteady hands of the now encouraged foe. The bluecoats reigned in by Gross-Voigtsberg, taking a very short breather.

Prince Henry was also pinned by Austro-Imperialist’s efforts to keep him from sending any help to Syburg. However, the Allied effort quickly ran out of steam as well. Hadik’s advance stalled out, and Henry again held the foe, inflicting heavier losses than he had sustained in the crisis. During the night of October 14–15, troops were transferred to the Prussian right, which aided Syburg when Hadik renewed his offensive early the next day. Holding attacks on the Prussian left and center helped to fix Henry, and the weight of superior numbers gradually pressed the Prussian right back. Prince Henry himself barely managed to escape capture from a group of marauding allied troopers. His lines, now stretched almost to the point of breaking, were collapsing; before dark he issued an order to hitch backwards upon Reichenbach. His army had been badly battered; nearly 2,000 men were killed, wounded, or captured and the old Prussian line had been destroyed. This was along with ten pieces of artillery.

Prince Henry conducted the retreat of his battered right, while General Hülsen drove the Prussian left/center by the Schlettau-Kätzenhäuser road, taking up post near the latter on October 16. Early the following morning, a Prussian counterattack enabled Henry to regain some of the lost ground. Frederick (from whom the joyous news that Schweidnitz had fallen was now in the camp) was sending 20,000 men under Wied to Saxony. The advance soon reached the scene—Major Henckel von Donnersmarck and his men—shortly. The king himself was now firmly resolved to go to Leipzig to winter with his men, leaving Prince Henry to wrap up the campaign (and likely the war) in Saxony.

But Hadik was also being reinforced, Prince Albert of Saxony had started for the Saxon theater with a force, albeit one weaker in numbers than the one Wied was bringing. Albert’s force had originally been about 13,000 strong, assembled in good detail at Trautenau, but the generally bad trend of the war in Silesia kept drawing off men from this total. In short order, Prince Albert was left with barely half of the force under his charge. October 18, the prince shoved off to reinforce the body of troops left over in Saxony, probably under some compulsion that the journey had better occur now or it never would, as the constraints of the campaign in Silesia would beckon. In short, this latter scene of operations would serve like a vacuum to inevitably draw the rest of Albert’s force off and leave nothing at all to reinforce the Saxon theater. However, with the advantage of interior lines, Albert could, at least, be expected days before the enemy could ever show with their force.

Besides, a communiqué sent by Hadik to the aforementioned Stolberg betrayed his belief that the foe could no longer mount a serious effort of any kind. As for Stolberg, he was busy concentrating on trying to prop up the Allied position at and about Freiberg. Despite Stolberg’s “brave front,” though, the prince was more than half anticipating that Prince Henry would come back, once bolstered with the forces on their way from Silesia, and reclaim Freiberg. (Obviously Stolberg did not share Hadik’s optimism about the actions of Prince Henry). Not only that, but Stolberg was equally nervous that Hadik himself had every intention of leaving the Imperialists out to dry, as the Austrian contingent was in desperate need of rest and refit. Next, word arrived, in the form of very reliable intelligence, that the Prussian king was indeed sending forth General Wied, from Görlitz and vicinity, with some 20,000 men, fresh off the capture of Schweidnitz and the virtual wrap-up of the war in Silesia. As for the allied reinforcements, Albert got into Weissig (night of October 27–28). He and his Allied contingent were too late to take part in the last major battle of the war, the Battle of Freiberg.

Henry wanted to launch a counterattack upon Hadik, ideally with as strong a force as possible, but it quickly became obvious that if he waited upon Wied, Hadik would already be strengthened by Albert’s men. The double danger, however, was that if Henry allowed Albert to join his comrade, then the reinforced Allies could continue with the advance. The enemy did not prove cooperative, and by the time Prince Henry decided to try on Hadik at Freiberg, his troops were already fortifying the position there to the hilt as well as daily looking for the expected reinforcements. October 22, renewed attacks were launched against the whole Prussian front. Prince Henry’s men held fast, although he worried about the attack plan. Henry knew it had to be implemented soon to have any effect.

He had about 28,000 men with him, opposed to 30,000 with Hadik. For a week, Prince Henry’s preparations went forward; as evening of October 28 drew to a close, he explained his plan to his subordinate officers.

Prince Henry had determined to throw down on the foe even before his own reinforcements could reach the scene of the action. In part, this was because the Allies felt the very conservative prince would want to wait until his army had been stiffened with new troops before he undertook his new enterprise. Thus they would be expecting no offensive action from him before then.

The Prussian Campaign of 1762 in Saxony III

The Prussians struck first instead. During the night of October 28–29, the bluecoats succinctly pushed off.24 Prince Henry himself was with Seydlitz. The enemy had been tipped off by a deserter, and, about 0100 hours, the Allies braced themselves for the coming blow. The plan was indeed bold, for Otto Stutterheim’s stroke, if not repulsed, would split open Stolberg’s front, while, more or less simultaneously, Johann Stutterheim and Seydlitz would serve to encircle Stolberg if he were not careful. Prince Henry’s plan, indeed, was nothing short of the complete destruction of the Allied army. General Hülsen took his force (some 10,500 men) and moved up the Triebisch, pressing against the barrier of Buttlar’s men. The latter had some 8,000 men under his charge, which included 24 squadrons of the precious Allied cavalry, and 34 pieces of artillery. Buttlar’s was just one of the different Allied forces round about in that area. General Hadik had his main Austrian force in the vicinity of the Saxon capital, MacQuire staying close to the Weisteritz, with the aforementioned Buttlar bridging the all-important gap between Hadik and the Imperialists of Stolberg. As for Stolberg, his main Imperial army stayed put northwest of Freiberg extending down into the city. There can be little doubt that Stolberg felt the positions his army were holding could not be maintained against aggressive attacks by the Prussians.

Stolberg was bluntly told by Austrian advisers (among them our old friend Major Seeger) he needed to keep close to the vest the outlying wooded areas around Freiberg. His fatal flaw, if he listened to his advisers, lay in the fact that he lacked sufficient numbers of men to hold the very extensive posts that those very same “advisers” were pontificating about. On the Allied right close by to Freiberg, Campitelli’s little force was ensconced, at Klein-Waltersdorf. On the Allied left about Freiberg, Lt.-Gen. Meyer led his force thereabouts. As for the Prussians, the rough terrain around Freiberg had necessitated the splitting of the attack force into four bodies (shades of the king’s plan at Torgau): Seydlitz with the largest (more than 9,000 strong) was to move round the Spittel Wald and sweep in upon Stolberg, headquartered in Freiberg itself, by launching against the Allied left wing. General Otto Stutterheim (with a 3,600-man force) was to lead the second column through the wood, while General Johann Stutterheim (with some 4,400 men) led the third on a diversionary assault upon the eastern end of the works between it and the Mulde.

Otto Stutterheim’s men stormed forward, pressing the enemy as speedily as was possible and practical from the crowded space in front of Klein-Waltersdorf. As soon as that patch of ground was seized from the struggling foe, Prussian artillery was being set up and sited in, while the second column of the younger Stutterheim was moving up to strike at the Spittel-Wald and the positions held by the Imperialists in and about Freiberg. The younger Stutterheim temporarily halted his men and probed briefly at the woods before him. The enemy opposite to him, a body of men under Lt-General Aton Friedrich Rodt, put up an unexpectedly stiff resistance to the Prussian incursions. The bluecoat advance was met most solidly here not only by Rodt’s men, but by the Baden-Baden Infantry.

The initial Prussian efforts thereabouts were repulsed, but Stutterheim brought up reinforcements and finally pressed the foe back from forward posts to fall back slowly upon the lines of abatis behind the Allied forward positions there. Stutterheim’s men pressed against the enemy taking refuge behind those works, but the latter were being reinforced in their turn by Salm-Salm and other units, including Prince Stolberg himself coming forward, sword in hand, in a desperate bid to head off the enemy’s efforts here. After some hard fighting, the Prussian advance was finally headed off, and they were forced to retire from this forward position.

The attacks of Generals Hülsen and Forcade (the latter leading some 3,000 men), along with the valiant efforts of the Stutterheim brothers, were all merely diversions to keep the Imperials & Company busy while the main attack force of Seydlitz and “Green” Kleist, accompanied by Prince Henry, proceeded with its mission. Seydlitz’ column started out from Marbach, and made a wide swinging maneuver to take on the enemy in the area opposite to where they arrived.

Seydlitz’s men reached Klein-Schirma, near the edge of the Spittel Wald, before they encountered significant Imperialist resistance. About 0700 hours, “Green” Kleist encountered and drove part of Török’s command, which had in the meanwhile taken post at Klein-Schirma, back from that locale. Seydlitz’ men had reached open country hard about Brand, where Meyer’s men were deployed. The latter force was a significant body of men, but the bluecoats took a calculated risk that paid off by pitting a small detachment of men to work at trying to contain Meyer while the remainder of the main attack force bypassed this element and proceeded with the main assault.

Meanwhile, though, our old friend Major Seeger had detected the movement of the Prussian main attack force over by the hamlets of St. Michaels and Lindon, and immediately deciphered, as best he could that is, what was going on. The upshot was, while a dispatch rider or two galloped off to headquarters to inform Prince Stolberg & Company what was occurring, Seeger proceeded to round up what forces he could gather, and took post at the edge of the woods. With this force, he battled the oncoming force of Seydlitz & Company to a standstill. Imperialist cavalry tore into the cavalry escort of the Prussian column, and, for a brief time, Seeger and his compatriots threatened to derail the whole enemy plan of action. Although outnumbered from the word go, Seeger managed to keep the bluecoats from debouching into the open terrain in front of them until just past 0900 hours.

Now, unfortunately for the Allied cause, while several of the understrength Imperialist cavalry units were having the day of their careers at Freiberg, their Austrian counterparts, for the most part, did not fare so well. A number of the latter were understrength, too, it must be admitted, but that does not exactly explain the deficiency. As the troopers began to be driven back from the field, even belated reinforcements from Meyer failed to help stem the tide. The Prussian troopers now pressed forward in their turn, in some instances even hitting the backs of units fighting the bluecoat advance from by the Spittel Wald in the rear.

Events seemed on the verge of taking a disastrous turn the worse for the Allies just about then. Then Major-General Vecsey suddenly appeared with two full hussar units, the 34th Hussars of Dessewiffi and those of Baranyáy. These particular entities behaved with more stability and stamina on the day of Freiberg than many of their contemporaries. The newcomers were immediately pressed into a stirring counterattack, against the bluecoat body surging forth from the confines of the Spittel Wald. The Prussians, in their turn, were brought a standstill in the heat of the action. In no time, the bluecoats were driven off the Galgen-Berg, by the surging opponent. It looked like Prince Henry might be on the verge of a devastating defeat. But the fighting then stabilized for the moment thereabouts.

Meanwhile, the fighting to the south, in the vicinity of St. Michaelis and Brand, had taken a decided turn for the better in favor of the Prussians. The bluecoat forces in that vicinity, led head-on by “Green” Kleist and Seydlitz, surged right at the town of Freiberg. Stolberg, who could certainly have mounted a most dogmatic defense of Freiberg by destroying part of the place in order to make the way more difficult for the Prussian force, instead conducted what amounted to a ‘fighting withdrawal’ from Freiberg. This action saved the place from undergoing significant damage in the battle.

As for the efforts of the Stutterheim brothers, their advance had been renewed by about 1030 hours in the morning. First up, Prussian units pressed what was left of the foe clinging to Klein-Waltersdorf out of the place. Otto Stutterheim’s forces, chiefly here the 7th Infantry of Bevern, stormed forward, driving the embattled enemy from a mountain post in which it captured “five cannon and a flag, surrounding the enemy from the south.” The 4th Cuireassiers of Schmettau were another of the nearby formations, they galloped over and through “two regiments at the Spittelwald, captured ten guns and eight flags.”

On the side of these units of Otto Stutterheim, his brother Johann, along about the same time, seized the mantle and renewed his attack with his task force. This one was over towards Freiberg itself. The momentum by just about 1100 hours had swung decisively in favor of the Prussians. The 33rd Infantry of Esterhazy was sent by Buttlar forthwith to help prop up Stolberg, but the foe was encroaching steadily by then from both west and south, and the vision of Stolberg was slowly settling on Frauenstein and the route of escape in that region. Just before 1300 hours, Prince Stolberg began the process of withdrawing his men from the lost battle. General Buttlar played a key role in covering this retreat, and the Prussian commanders, for the most part, did not pursue the retreating Imperialists. Buttlar’s guns, sited in to inflict as much damage to the enemy as was possible, were now utilized, to cover the withdrawal of his force while Stolberg pulled back.

Freiberg’s garrison was alerted, but there were no support troops available yet. Passing the Spittel Wald, the Prussians discovered a previously undetected body of enemy cavalry on the heights near Brand—under Lt.-Gen. Karl Friedrich von Meyer—and a detachment was put out to contain it. Hülsen pressed right up to the Mulde. The general was coming up behind Stolberg’s army, in order to sidetrack the Imperialists as to the main effort, as we have noted above. General Hülsen hitched into Dittmannsdorf and Reinsberg, hard by which Buttlar’s force was ensconced. Freiberg was the last major battle of the war in Saxony. The first major one in the province since Torgau. In short, the attacking columns, unlike at Torgau in 1760, had all struck about the same time; Seydlitz/Kleist rolled up the allied wing, while Otto Stutterheim’s men smashed his front. The Allies reeled back under the blows, while Johann Stutterheim’s assault then finished off the foe. The fighting was fierce indeed, but, the Prussians had taken Freiberg from the enemy. The latter retired as best they could across the Mulde.

General Forcade had the opportunity to close up and hem in the enemy forces, possibly destroying them in the process; he fumbled it! In spite of this, this Battle of Freiberg was short but decisive and it gave Prussia a complete victory just when one was needed. Losses were correspondingly heavy: Prussians, about 1,400 killed/wounded; Austrians, about 2,700 killed/wounded, 4,390 men and 79 officers captured, with 28 guns and 11 battle flags. Even as the Allies slowly retired upon Dippoldiswalde, they realized the war was lost. That being stated, final movements on this front can be quickly wrapped up: Wied got into the vicinity of the Prussians in Saxony after the Battle of Freiberg was already a done deal. October 31, Wied reached Merschwitz, bringing with him a full 20,000 men. Prince Henry moved on Pretzschendorf, where he was joined by Wied (November 4). The forces of General Hülsen had missed the battle entirely.

Wied had one last little enterprise in mind. Early on the morning of November 7, a force of bluecoats, divided into two columns, advanced with Krockow leading the first from Kätzenhäuser; this while the second, under Wied (which consisted of five squadrons of the Ziethen Hussars, the Czettritz Dragoons (the 4th), ten battalions of infantry, and the 9th Cuirassiers (Bredow), along with Prince Henry 2nd Cuirassiers), also progressed.

This command advanced and fell upon an Austrian force under Friedrich Ludwig von Dönhoff, which was made up of two battalions of Croats, two squadrons of cavalry, and a body of some 300 infantry. The action took place at the Landsberg, over near Spechthausen. A short, but sharp fight resulted, in which the Austrians were completely defeated. The entire force under Dönhoff would have fallen into Prussian hands if not for the timely arrival of Major-General Amadei, who marched out of the Tharandter Wald, and forced the bluecoats to back off of their pursuit. As it was, this last fight of the whole war involving Prussians and the Austrians resulted in the bluecoats taking 573 prisoners and lost 32 men as casualties. Dorn states that Prince Henry’s 2nd Cuirassiers “fought in Saxony with Hussar Regiment 2 at Spechthausen, where 600 prisoners and four guns fell into its hands.” Wied took Hülsen’s place in his command; the latter joined Henry. “Green” Kleist was dispatched into Bohemia (November 7), heading for Leitmeritz, although he never made it. Instead, after laying waste to the Austrian supply depot at Saaz, and threatening the main one at Leitmeritz, Henry recalled him to Chemnitz to take post. This closed the Saxon Campaign for this season and the war on this front along with it.

As for the Allies, while Hadik continued to occupy Dresden and vicinity until the bitter end, this with a full 13 battalions of foot, the Imperialists in the meanwhile had retired to Altenberg, with no further field operations in mind. Other than watching the lines-of-communication/supply of General Hadik with home, the Imperialists were retreating. November 13, Stolberg & Company were at Teplitz. In this situation, “Green” Kleist was unbuckled with his otherwise idle cavalry and sent on a “glorious” raid into the heart of the German Reich. Prince Henry detached him (with some 6,000 men) with specific instructions to plunder and lay waste to the more important states of the Reich (November 11). Kleist was to go with the goal of seizing at least half a million talers from the vulnerable enemy countryside and towns.

Kleist took hostages, shelled towns, ranging from Bamberg, Würzberg, Erlangen. The captives and contributions were forthwith started on their way to Leipzig, where Frederick was preparing to take up his headquarters for the coming winter. Kleist was involved in this largest raid into the Reich of the entire war until he and his crew were chased back into Saxony, arriving at Leipzig on December 9. By then a general truce with Hadik was underway. Hadik had reached agreement with his opponents (on November 24) for a general truce to last until Spring.

Now we can look briefly at Prince Ferdinand’s Campaign of 1762 with the French on the Western Front. We left the French and their opponents going into winter quarters at the end of the 1761 season. As we have already seen, Broglie as commander was out, so Soubise had supreme control of the French armies in the field facing Ferdinand. He had subordinates in Marshal d’Estrées and Prince Louis-Joseph de Bourbon Condé—the latter commanding a second, smaller army on the lower Rhine. The Allies continued to operate at a numerical disadvantage: the French totaled more than 120,000 men, joined by Prince Xavier of Saxony, while Ferdinand had less than 85,000 men with him.

Ferdinand came out swinging for the new campaign, defeating Soubise at Wilhelmstahl (June 24), while Prince Xavier, coming up to face him, was similarly beaten by Ferdinand at Lütternberg on July 23. The latter now set to blockading the enemy strongholds in Hesse-Cassel, Ziegenhayn, Marburg, and, of course, Kassel. With his main army mauled by the Allies already, Soubise urgently ordered Condé to bring on his army immediately. Between Lahn and the Mayn, the two French forces performed a juncture, on August 30 near to Freiburg.

The same day, the Prince of Brunswick was rebuffed at Johannisberg (near Nauheim) by the enemy in his designs upon them. Göttingen, however, had fallen to the Allies, already—August 16. Ferdinand was gradually driving the French from most of Hesse-Cassel, and putting Kassel under a siege. Soubise and d’Estrées decided to try to bypass Ferdinand’s forward posts and drive him away from the French posts in Hesse-Cassel. Marshal d’Estrées started maneuvering about, trying to break across the Ohm River. Prince Ferdinand had been throwing up blockposts to prevent the French from interfering with his designs upon Kassel. Marshal d’Estrées tried to seize the Brücken-Mühle bridge near Amöneburg on September 21.

Ferdinand had a garrison of not quite a thousand men within the place, although General Zastrow and his Prusso-Hanoverian troops and Lord Granby’s English soldiers were nearby. About 0500 hours, the French struck; by 0800 hours, their progress was so beyond containment with local defenders that Zastrow was forced to feed reinforcements into the fight. A steadily strengthened French effort brought d’Estrees and Zastrow into a cannonade duel. A protracted struggle waged on into the afternoon, the French inflicting heavy losses on the defenders but failing to gain their bridgehead. By 2000 hours, the discouraged attackers broke off their effort (having themselves suffered more than 1,000 casualties) and fell back. Thus the final French effort to relieve Kassel utterly failed. Ferdinand redoubled his efforts upon the fortress and Ziegenhayn. On November 1, Kassel and its impressive garrison of 10,000 French troops surrendered. This drove Soubise & Company from Hesse-Cassel, and, as the campaign closed, Ferdinand took up winter quarters with the expectation that peace was finally coming.

Back in Silesia, Frederick heard the news of Prince Henry’s efforts in Saxony, including its culmination at Freiberg. November 4, Frederick was in Meissen, and, on November 9, he met Henry and Seydlitz on the scene of Henry’s triumph at the Freiberg battlefield. Prince Henry had sent Kleist into Bohemia, but with his return he was dispatched towards the Reich to try to break Imperialist obstinacy, as we have observed.

The Austrians refused to release Imperialist units to cover the Reich, and as long as Austria remained at war with Prussia, it lay open to the incursions of Prussian raiders. The Reich Diet was induced to thus seek peace with the Prussian king. And, on November 24, the Austrians themselves, worn out and realizing that they could not conquer Prussia alone (with the Imperialists wavering already and the French on the verge of peace with the British), finally approached Frederick’s court to have a truce. But this was only for themselves, as Prince Stolberg took his Imperials into the Reich to defend it.

Stolberg arrived at his destination in late December, but as Kleist had already moved off for home (December 13), there was no enemy present there. The Prussians took winter quarters in Meissen-Freiberg region, Frederick himself once again at Leipzig (December 5). Thus finally ended the military operations of the long, bloody Seven Years’ War in Germany. All of the nations were now ready for peace; all that remained was in working out the details.

The final drama of the war, the peace negotiations, was almost anticlimactic considering the duration and scope of the war. The Prussian representative, Ewald von Hertzberg, met, along with other Prussian diplomats, with Allied representatives in that same old hunting lodge at Hubertusburg that Frederick had pillaged once upon a time.

The Austrian representative, Heinrich von Collenbach, at first held tough; he demanded that Glatz be handed over to the Habsburgs and that Prussia should pay compensation to Saxony, but caved in when Frederick, too, held tough. Glatz was not to be turned over to the Austrians, if the king could do anything about it. Eventually, both sides agreed to return to the status quo of before the war. Finally, on February 15, 1763, the two major opponents officially ended the war by their signatures on the Treaty of Hubertusburg. It had been a long, bloody and costly war, and, no doubt, both in Berlin and Vienna, not to mention Versailles, people were glad that it was finally over with. On February 10, the British, French, and Spanish had already signed the Treaty of Paris, ending their hostilities. As for Frederick, he made his way back home to Berlin, incognito. The crowds gathered, rumors flew about the impending arrival of Prussia’s great king back “home.” The people gathered all right, to greet their monarch, and waited, and waited. March 30, 1763. When the next dawn came, Frederick was back at his desk. Working. Such was the measure of the man!

What had been the cost of the war? The combatants suffered about 500,000 dead, nearly 200,000 of these being Prussian. In fact, the population of Prussia had stood at about 4,400,000 persons before the war, now it totaled about four million even. The Allies had collectively suffered in about equal measure, although individually had gotten off lighter than Prussia. There had been a tremendous amount of damage inflicted upon the entire region of Central Europe, most especially in Germany. There was much work to be done. Such was the war’s heritage.

Lützen 1631

Prelude: The Battles of Steinau and Alte Veste

Wallenstein had brought the imperial army back up to about 65,000 men. He advanced from Znaim into Bohemia with nearly half that number at the end of April. Saxon resistance collapsed. The Saxons and Bohemian exiles had thoroughly alienated the Bohemians by their plundering so that even the Protestants were glad to see them re-cross the mountains in mid-June. Wallenstein decided against invading Saxony. Leaving troops to guard Bohemia and Silesia, he headed west to join Maximilian at Eger on 1 July. Both men made an effort to get along. Maximilian was careful to address Wallenstein as duke of Mecklenburg, and loaned him 300,000 fl. for provisions.

Gustavus had left Johann Georg to fight alone. He knew the elector was still negotiating with Wallenstein and feared he might defect. He headed northwards, entrenching at Nuremberg on 16 June when he learned imperial detachments were already moving to intercept him. It would have been safer to have marched north-west to Würzburg to be closer to his other armies in Lower Saxony and the Rhineland, but Gustavus could not afford to lose a prominent Protestant city like Nuremberg. Six thousand peasants were conscripted to dig a huge ditch around the city and emplace 300 cannon borrowed from the city’s arsenal. The cavalry were left outside to maintain communications while Gustavus waited for his other armies to join him.

Having arrived on 17 July, Wallenstein resolved not to repeat Tilly’s mistake at Werben and to starve the Swedes out rather than attacking their entrenchments. He built his own camp west of the city at Zirndorf that was 16km in circumference and entailed felling 13,000 trees and shifting the equivalent of 21,000 modern truck-loads of earth. Imperial garrisons in Fürth, Forchheim and other towns commanded the roads into Nuremberg, while cavalry patrolled the countryside. Gustavus was trapped. He had 18,000 soldiers, but faced insurmountable supply problems as the city’s 40,000 inhabitants had been joined by 100,000 refugees. The Imperialists burned all the mills outside the Swedish entrenchments and the defenders were soon on half rations.

The situation was initially much better in Wallenstein’s camp because it received supplies from as far away as Bohemia and Austria. Things worsened with the hotter weather in August though. The concentration of 55,000 troops and around 50,000 camp followers produced at least four tonnes of human excrement daily, in addition to the waste from the 45,000 cavalry and baggage horses. The camp was swarming with rats and flies, spreading disease. Wallenstein had become a victim of his own strategy and by mid-August his army was no longer fully operational after the Swedes captured a supply convoy. He was unable to intercept a relief force of 24,000 men and 3,000 supply wagons sent by Oxenstierna to join Gustavus.

As tension mounted in Franconia, Johann Georg tried to improve his bargaining position by sending Arnim to invade Silesia. The hagiography surrounding Gustavus has overshadowed these events that involved significant numbers of troops and are very revealing about tension within Sweden’s alliance. Arnim had 12,000 Saxons, plus 3,000 Brandenburgers and 7,000 Swedes. The latter were under the command of Jacob Duwall, born MacDougall in Scotland, who had served Sweden since 1607 and raised two German regiments that formed the bulk of his corps, and whose presence was to ensure Arnim remained loyal. Duwall was a man of considerable energy, but like many professional officers he had become an alcoholic.

Imperial reinforcements were rushed from Bohemia to join the Silesian garrisons under the elderly Marradas, who collected 20,000 men at Steinau, an important Oder crossing between Glogau and Breslau. He entrenched on the Gallows Hill, south-east of Steinau, between it and the river, and posted cavalry on the Sand Hill west of the town to watch the approach. Musketeers occupied the Geisendorf suburb to the west and a nearby churchyard. The advance guard under the firebrand Duwall arrived at midday on 29 August, and immediately engaged the imperial cavalry. After two hours of skirmishing the Imperialists retreated into the marshy Kalterbach valley south of Steinau. Saxon artillery had now arrived on the Sand Hill and compelled the cavalry to retreat further into Marradas’s camp, exposing the musketeers. Duwall’s younger brother led 1,000 Swedish and Brandenburg musketeers who stormed the suburb and churchyard. The Imperialists set the town on fire to forestall further attack, virtually destroying it. Duwall wanted to press on, but Arnim refused. The two were barely on speaking terms and Duwall was convinced Arnim was still negotiating with the enemy on the Gallows Hill.

Rather than assault the camp the next day, Arnim marched south to Dieban further upstream where he built a bridge, intending to cross and cut Marradas off from the other side. Marradas belatedly attacked Dieban, but was repulsed on 4 September and retreated, having left a small detachment at the Steinau bridge to delay pursuit. The allied losses were slight, but the Imperialists lost 6,000, mainly prisoners or men who fled during the initial engagement. The losses indicate the continued poor condition of parts of the imperial army, especially when irresolutely led. Arnim pressed on, taking Breslau and Schweidnitz where he reversed the re-Catholicization measures. The Imperialists were driven into the mountains. Arnim had conquered Silesia with fewer troops and against greater odds than Frederick II of Prussia’s celebrated invasion in 1740.

Wallenstein decided to punish Saxony, and ordered Holk with 10,000 men from Forchheim to invade the Vogtland that formed the south-western tip of Johann Georg’s territory. As Holk began systematic plundering to intimidate the elector, the pressure mounted on Gustavus to break out of Nuremberg. The reinforcements sent by Oxenstierna arrived on 27 August, giving him the largest army he ever commanded: 28,000 infantry, 17,000 cavalry and 175 field guns. Disease and Holk’s detachment had reduced Wallenstein’s force to 31,000 foot and 12,000 horse. The odds were still not in Gustavus’s favour, especially considering Wallenstein was entrenched on high ground above the Rednitz river over 6km from Gustavus’s camp. The river prevented attack from the east, while the more open southern and western sides were furthest from Gustavus and would be difficult to reach without exposing his flank. This left the north, held by Liga units under Aldringen, and which was the strongest, highest side. The entrenchments were covered by abatis, the seventeenth-century equivalent of First World War barbed-wire entanglements made by felling and trimming trees to leave only sharpened branches pointing towards the enemy. The ruined castle that gave the position its name (Alte Veste) provided an additional strong point.

Surprise was impossible. Gustavus’s intentions were clear once he seized Fürth to cross the Rednitz on the night of 1–2 September. There is some indication that Gustavus only attacked because he thought Wallenstein was withdrawing, but this was probably put about just to excuse the debacle. The king planned to pin Wallenstein with artillery fire from east of the Rednitz, while he and Wilhelm of Weimar attacked Aldringen, and Bernhard of Weimar worked his way round to hit the weaker western side. A preliminary bombardment failed to silence the imperial artillery. Gustavus pressed on regardless, sending his infantry up the wooded northern slope early on 3 September. Thin drizzle had already made the ground slippery, and it proved impossible to bring up the regimental guns as the rain grew heavier during the day. The assault was renewed repeatedly into the night, but only gained a few imperial outworks on the western side. Gustavus gave up. He retreated covered by his cavalry, having lost at least 1,000 killed and 1,400 badly wounded. General Banér’s wounds left him incapacitated for the rest of the year. Worse, demoralization prompted 11,000 men to desert. Altogether, at least 29,000 people died in Gustavus’s camp during the prolonged stand-off, while animal casualties left only 4,000 of his cavalry mounted by the end.

Unable to remain in Nuremberg, Gustavus pulled out on 15 September. He waited a week at Windsheim to the west, before deciding that Wallenstein no longer posed an immediate threat and marching south, intending to winter in Swabia. Wallenstein had lost less than 1,000 men, but his army was sick. So many horses had died that 1,000 wagons of supplies were abandoned when he burned his camp on 21 September. He moved north, overrunning the rest of Franconia and into Thuringia, while Gallas marched through north-east Bohemia to reinforce Holk’s raiders putting pressure on Saxony. The Imperialists occupied Meissen and despatched Croats towards Dresden with the message that Johann Georg would no longer need candles for his banquets as the Imperialists would now provide light by burning Saxony’s villages.

Maximilian and Wallenstein parted ways at Coburg in mid-October. The elector agreed that Pappenheim and the Liga field force would join Wallenstein from Westphalia in return for Aldringen and fourteen imperial regiments being assigned to stiffen the Bavarians. The arrangement proved unsatisfactory, and the resulting acrimony revealed the continued tension between Maximilian and the emperor. Wallenstein complained that Pappenheim did not arrive fast enough, and indeed repeated orders had to be sent before that general finally gave up his independent role and marched to Saxony. Maximilian resented Aldringen for still reporting to Wallenstein, who already recalled some of the regiments by late November. Maximilian returned south to protect Bavaria, while Wallenstein marched north-east into Saxony, ordering the plundering to stop as he now intended to winter in the electorate.

Battle of Lützen

Gustavus realized his mistake. Wallenstein was not only threatening his principal ally, but endangering communications with the Baltic bridgehead. Against Oxenstierna’s advice, he raced north, covering 650km in 17 days at the cost of 4,000 horses. En route he passed Maximilian heading in the opposite direction. The armies were only 25km apart, but unaware of each other’s presence. The main Saxon army was still with Arnim in Silesia. Johann Georg had only 4,000 men, plus 2,000 Lüneburgers under Duke Georg who shadowed Pappenheim through Lower Saxony. Leipzig surrendered a second time to the Imperialists and its commandant was executed by the furious elector, who then made his widow pay the cost of the court martial.

Pappenheim joined Wallenstein on 7 November, while the Saxons retreated into Torgau and Gustavus rested at Erfurt after his long march. It was now very cold. Wallenstein dispersed his troops to find food, sending Colonel Hatzfeldt with 2,500 men to watch Torgau. Pappenheim was restless, wanting to return to Westphalia where the Swedes were known to be picking off his garrisons. Sick with gout, Wallenstein lacked the energy to argue, and let him go with 5,800 men. Gallas was summoned from the Bohemian frontier to replace him, but it would be some time before he arrived.

Gustavus had moved east down the Saale, taking Naumburg on 10 November. He decided to force a battle, hoping for another Breitenfeld to restore his reputation, dented by Alte Veste. As he approached the Imperialists, he learned from peasants how weak Wallenstein was and pressed on to catch him. General Rodolfo Colloredo, commanding a detachment of 500 dragoons and Croats, blocked him at the marshy Rippach stream east of Weissenfels, delaying him for four hours on 15 November. It was now too late for battle, and Gustavus was forced to camp for the night.

Wallenstein abandoned his retreat to Leipzig when he received word from Colloredo, halting at Lützen still 20km short of his destination. He had only 8,550 foot, 3,800 horse and 20 heavy guns. His right was protected by the marshy Mühlgraben stream. The Weissenfels–Leipzig highway crossed this at Lützen, a town that comprised 300 houses and an old castle surrounded by a wall. Wallenstein guessed correctly that Gustavus would not attempt another frontal assault, but would cross further south-east to outflank him. Accordingly, he drew up just north east of the town parallel to the road. Musketeers spent the night widening the ditches either side of the road, while Holk supervised deployment of the main army, lighting candles to guide units into position. Four hundred musketeers were posted in Lützen to secure the right, and thirteen guns were placed on the slight rise of Windmill Hill just north of the town. Around half the cavalry drew up behind with the rest on the left. The infantry deployed in between in two lines, with another 7 guns on their left and 420 musketeers lining the ditches in front. There were not enough cavalry to cover the gap from the left to the Flossgraben ditch that cut the highway beyond Wallenstein’s position. Isolano’s 600 Croats were posted as a screen across the gap with the camp followers and baggage massed in the rear holding sheets as flags to create the impression of powerful forces behind. They were supposed to wait until Pappenheim, recalled during the night, could replace them.

Johann Georg refused to send reinforcements from Torgau, but Gustavus had nearly 13,000 infantry, 6,200 cavalry and 20 heavy guns and so remained confident. His army assembled in thick fog about 3,000 metres to the west early on 16 November to hear the king’s stirring address. As Wallenstein predicted, Gustavus swung east across the Mühlgraben and then north over the Flossgraben to deploy around 10 a.m. in front of him. The action began as the fog lifted around an hour later and the Swedes made a general advance towards the imperial positions. Gustavus used his customary deployment in two lines, with the cavalry on the flanks stiffened with musketeer detachments. The best infantry were in the first line, while the king commanded most of the Swedish and Finnish horse on the right and Bernhard of Weimar led the 3,000 mainly German troopers on the left.

The Croats soon scattered, prompting the decoy troops to take to their heels. Gustavus was nonetheless delayed by the musketeers hidden in the ditch. Widely cited reports that Wallenstein spent the day carried in a litter stem from Swedish propaganda. Despite pain from gout, he mounted his horse to conduct an energetic defence. Lützen was set on fire to stop the Swedes entering and turning his flank. The wind blew the smoke into his enemies’ faces and, as at Breitenfeld, it quickly became impossible to see what was happening. Bernhard’s men were unable to take either Lützen or Windmill Hill. The real chance lay on the other flank where Gustavus had more space to go round the end of the imperial line. Wallenstein switched cavalry from his right to stem the king’s advance.

Pappenheim arrived in the early afternoon with 2,300 cavalry, having ridden 35km through the night. His arrival encouraged the Croats to return and together they drove the Swedes back across the road. The veteran Swedish infantry also suffered heavy casualties and fell back, having failed to dislodge the imperial centre. Wilhelm of Weimar’s bodyguard fled, panicking the Swedish baggage which also took off. Several imperial units had also broken, and both armies were losing cohesion. Pappenheim had been shot dead early in his attack; Wallenstein’s order summoning him was later retrieved bloodstained from his body. The battle disintegrated into isolated attacks by individual units.

Gustavus appears to have got lost as he rode to rally his shattered infantry and was shot, probably by an imperial infantry corporal. His entourage tried to lead him to safety, but blundered into the confused cavalry mêlée still in progress amid the smoke on the right where he was shot again, by Lieutenant Moritz Falkenberg, a Catholic relation of the defender of Magdeburg, who himself was then slain by the Swedish master of horse. The fatal shot burned the face of Franz Albrecht of Lauenburg who was accompanying the king as a volunteer. Under attack himself, Franz Albrecht could no longer support the king in his saddle and he fell dead to the ground. The Swedes never forgave the duke for abandoning their monarch’s body, which was subsequently stabbed and stripped by looters. Rumours of the king’s death added to the growing despondency in the Swedish ranks. Knyphausen, commanding the infantry, insisted Gustavus was only wounded and the royal chaplain, Jacob Fabricius, organized psalm singing to boost morale. Unaware of what had happened, Bernhard continued his fruitless attacks on Lützen.

The fighting subsided around 3 p.m. Knyphausen advised retreat, but Bernhard, now appraised of the situation, urged another assault that finally carried Windmill Hill. Firing ceased two hours later, after dark. Pappenheim’s 3,000 infantry arrived an hour after that. Wallenstein was exhausted and appalled at the loss of at least 3,000 dead and wounded, including many senior officers. He decided to retreat and abandoned his artillery and another 1,160 wounded, who were left behind in Leipzig as he fell back into Bohemia. The Swedes lost 6,000 and were on the point of retreating themselves when a prisoner revealed that the Imperialists had already gone.

The disparity of the losses, magnified by Gustavus’s presence among the Swedish dead, fuelled the controversy over who really won. Protestant propaganda and Gustavus’s firm place on later staff college curricula have ensured that Lützen is generally hailed as ‘a great Swedish victory’. Wallenstein showed far superior generalship, whereas Gustavus relied on an unimaginative frontal assault with superior numbers. The Swedes were able to claim victory because Wallenstein lost his nerve and retreated, not least because he was not certain until 25 November that Gustavus was dead. Wallenstein probably regretted this mistake. He certainly vented his fury on the units that had fled in the battle, insisting on executing eleven men, but he also distributed bonuses to the wounded and richly rewarded those who distinguished themselves like Holk and Piccolomini.

Lützen’s real significance lay in Gustavus’s death. The Swedes continued fighting, already helping the Saxons evict the remaining Imperialists from the electorate by January. But their purpose had changed and Oxenstierna sought, albeit with little success, to extricate his country under the best possible terms.

Battle of Eckmühl 1809

1809 Cuirassier

Austrian Cavalry – Cuirassiers in 1809

Antoine de Marbot recounted an incident that demonstrated the properties of the two styles of cuirass, when at Eckmühl in April 1809 French and Austrian cuirassiers crashed together, while the accompanying light cavalry drew off to the flanks to avoid being caught up in the fight.

The cuirassiers advanced rapidly upon each other, and became one immense melée. Courage, tenacity and strength were well matched, but the defensive arms were unequal, for the Austrian cuirasses only covered them in front, and gave no protection to the back in a crowd. In this way, the French troopers who, having double cuirasses and no fear of being wounded from behind had only to think of thrusting, were able to give point to the enemy’s backs, and slew a great many of them with small loss to themselves. [When the Austrians wheeled about to withdraw] the fight became a butchery, as our cuirassiers pursued the enemy. This fight settled a question which had long been debated, as to the necessity of double cuirasses, for the proportion of Austrians wounded and killed amounted respectively to eight and thirteen for one Frenchman.

A further item of protective equipment used by heavy cavalry was a consequence of the knee-to-knee charge formation: the long boots worn to prevent the legs being crushed. Some thought them more an encumbrance than a protection, as Marbot observed of a dismounted cuirassier officer at Eckmühl who was unable to run fast enough to escape the enemy – he was killed in the act of pulling off his boots.

The plan was simple. While Davout pinned what little remained of the Austrian right, Lànnes, Lefebvre and Vandamme were to force their way forward along a ten-mile front between Hausen and Siegenburg. Their line of operations would run through Rottenburg and, once the penetration of the Austrian center was accomplished, part of the attacking force would head for Landshut to join Massena and thus isolate Charles’ left wing, while the remainder swept north toward Abbach to destroy his right. Napoleon assumed that the garrison of Ratisbon—the 2,000 men of Colonel Coutard’s 65th Regiment—would already have destroyed the bridge over the Danube there, thus denying the Austrians any easy line of retreat to the north bank of the Danube. Consequently he would only have to worry about blocking the more easterly crossing at Straubing.

At first on the 20th it appeared that all was going as planned. The attack by the French center went extremely well; beginning at 9:00 A.M., it took little over two hours for the corps to crash their way through the brittle barrier formed by Archduke Louis’ Vth Corps near Abensburg. At the same time, somewhat further south, Oudinot inflicted a sharp defeat on Hiller’s command. By midday, therefore, Napoleon’s strategic penetration was an accomplished fact, and it appeared that nothing could save the Austrian army from piecemeal destruction. By 5:00 A.M. on the 21st, Napoleon was feeling confident enough to write to Davout that he had achieved “another Jena.” He went on to enlarge on his plan for the double envelopment of the Austrian wings, clearly believing that nothing remained but the clearing up of the debris and the organization of a general pursuit. Davout was to move back to Ratisbon by way of Langquaid with two of his divisions. Taken together, these forces should suffice to attack and beat off the Ist and IInd Corps of the Austrian forces operating from Bohemia, besides encompassing the annihilation of the remnants of the Austrian IIIrd Corps on the south bank of the Danube. Meanwhile, Lannes and Lefebvre would be heading for Landshut; two German divisions and Nansouty’s cuirassiers were to lead the way, followed by Morand and Gudin, the remaining divisions of the VIIth Corps bringing up the rear. Massena, Napoleon assumed, would already be acting as the stop-force at Landshut. Very soon the road to Vienna would lie invitingly open with the shattered remnants of the Austrian army lying by the wayside. Barely three regiments could still be facing Davout.

On the map, at least, these dispositions appeared convincing. In practice, however, they were riddled with unjustified assumptions and miscalculations which have led many commentators to claim that Napoleon’s powers of judgment were clearly in decline. In the first place, Napoleon believed on insufficient evidence that Davout and Lefebvre had between them really defeated Charles’ right wing on the 19th, whereas in fact they had only brushed with its leading formations; secondly, the Emperor calculated that the battle at Abensberg on the 20th had disposed of a further two Austrian corps; thirdly, he assumed that there was no way over the Danube for the Austrians at Ratisbon; and fourthly, that Massena was already in possession of Landshut and the Isar crossings. All these assumptions were wholly or in part unjustified. Instead of being defeated, at least two thirds of the Austrian army was still intact and under more or less effective command. Only two Austrian corps—those of Louis and Hiller—had so far received anything approaching a drubbing. As it happened therefore, Davout was still faced by almost three Austrian corps. So much for the Emperor’s “three regiments!” In addition, both the city and bridge at Ratisbon were safely in Austrian possession. Attacked by Kollowrath from the north and Lichtenstein from the south, and faced with the hopeless task of defending an extensive and badly repaired perimeter, Colonel Couthard had surrendered at 5:00 P.M. the previous afternoon. Even worse, he had failed to destroy the vital bridge. This stone structure was massively built on numerous piers and provided with extensive ice shields on each side that made effective demolition practically impossible. Davout had mentioned this fact to the Emperor several times during the preceding week, but for once the mighty brain had failed to assimilate the information. Finally, the “stop-force,” so vital if the Austrian left wing was to be caught on the Isar, was not in fact in position. Massena had experienced considerable difficulty crossing the River Amper, and this wrecked his time schedule; in consequence the main part of his force was not yet beyond Freising, although a force of light cavalry and Claparède’s division of infantry had pushed ahead as far as Mooseburg. These troops were under orders to press on for Landshut down the right bank of the Isar if they were not opposed in force. Unfortunately, Massena was not in person with his advance guard, and this move was not executed with the greatest vigor. As a result, Hiller was able to recross the Isar safely with the remnants of three corps, leaving a strong garrison to hold the Landshut bridges. Thus the enemy left wing was already making good its escape.

During the day Napoleon and his staff rode rapidly southward to join the IVth Corps and supervise Hiller’s elimination, unaware that the opportunity was already passing. The Emperor was considerably put out to discover both the town and bridge of Landshut still in Austrian hands. This situation he determined to change. While Massena’s weary men pressed up the right bank toward the town, after passing the Isar at Mooseburg, Napoleon sent forward a special column of grenadiers under one of his personal aides, the bluntly spoken General Mouton, to capture the bridge by a coup de main. Although the piles were already on fire, Mouton gallantly led his men over the bridge, captured the island in the middle of the river, and then stormed over the second span of the crossing into Landshut itself, entirely disregarding the fact that the enemy were still massed in the town. This was a feat of arms as bold as that performed at Lodi in 1796, but, as on the earlier occasion, it proved unavailing. It was too late to trap Hiller, and a disgruntled Napoleon could think of nothing better than to detach Bessières at the head of a composite infantry and cavalry force to pursue the Austrian rear guard as best he might.

Although the events of the day had resulted in the Austrians losing 10,000 casualties, 30 guns, 600 caissons and 7,000 other vehicles, the Austrian army was still far from destroyed. During the morning it had appeared that the game was won, and this put the Emperor in a rare good humor. Passing the 13th Regiment of Light Infantry (part of Oudinot’s command), Napoleon asked the colonel to name the bravest man in his unit. After some hesitation the reply came: “Sire, it is the Drum Major.” At Napoleon’s request the apprehensive bandsman was produced for Imperial inspection. “They say that you are the bravest man in this regiment,” Napoleon told him. “I appoint you a Knight of the Legion of Honor, Baron of the Empire, and award you a pension of 4,000 francs….” A gasp went up from the paraded ranks; this was munificence on a grand scale! It was the first time that an ordinary soldier had been raised to the nobility. As le Tondu shrewdly calculated, this award made a profound impression on the bewildered and homesick conscripts throughout the army; it was a good example of man-management as well as a justified recognition of personal valor.

Napoleon’s mood was somewhat less benign that evening as he came to realize the extent of his miscalculations. Interrogation of prisoners revealed that only Hiller’s and Louis’ Austrian corps had been fully involved in the previous day’s fighting. Consequently the pursuit was decidedly premature. Furthermore, Napoleon realized that the Archduke Charles was still in a position to escape the French by way of Straubing, his alternative line of communication. As on October 12, 1806, Napoleon was faced with the need to change his line of march radically toward a flank. Instead of pressing on up the Isar in the general direction of Vienna, the French right must be swung north toward Straubing to sever this line of retreat before the Austrians could take full advantage of it. Davout and Lefebvre must now serve as the direct pressure force, while Lannes moved rapidly toward Rocking in the role of enveloping force. Everything, however, depended on the continued denial of Ratisbon and its bridge to the Austrians, otherwise yet another avenue of escape would be available to Charles. The Emperor pored over his maps at Landshut, issuing a stream of orders.

A little later the next blow fell; a letter from Davout at last reported the loss of both Ratisbon and its intact bridge on the afternoon of the 20th. Not only did this mean that Charles could escape into Bohemia should he so choose, but it also implied that he was now in a position to receive active and immediate support from Bellegarde’s and Kollowrath’s corps, previously isolated on the northern bank of the Danube. Despite this new disappointment Napoleon decided to continue with his present plan; he doubted that Charles would retire into Bohemia by way of Ratisbon as this would leave the road to Vienna entirely unguarded. He calculated that Charles would either move eastward toward Straubing or make an attempt to reopen his communications over the Isar by way of Landau. Early news of any such moves would be vital; accordingly, General Saint-Sulpice, commanding the Second Division of Cuirassiers presently at Essenbach, was ordered “to keep a close watch on the road to Straubing and on that to Landau” and to send in without fail “tomorrow evening the reports from all the outposts, patrols and spies.”

Although Napoleon often had good reason to remonstrate at the failure of certain of his subordinates to keep him fully and accurately informed, he had no grounds for any such complaint with regard to Marshal Davout on the 21st. Late in the evening, a new dispatch arrived (written at 11:00 A.M.), reporting that the enemy was present in force near Tengen and Hausen: “Sire—the whole enemy army is before me. The fighting is very hot.”19 A message from Lefebvre confirmed this assessment independently. A little later another report arrived from the IIIrd Corps, sent off at 5:00 P.M., in which Davout stated that the Austrians were about to attack his left flank in strength, ending with the ominous phrase, “I will hold my positions—I hope.” Napoleon now appreciated that Davout and Lefebvre were facing a dangerous situation; clearly considerably more than three regiments were to their front! However, he decided to reinforce the sector with only Oudinot’s two divisions and the Prince Regent’s Bavarian division from Rothenburg. Thus some 36,000 French troops were being called to face at least 75, Austrians. He felt confident, however, that once Lannes’ turning movement made its presence felt the Archduke Charles would lose no time in falling back toward Straubing or the Isar. The Emperor, meanwhile, decided to wait in the vicinity of Landshut for news of Charles’ retreat and its direction.

Early in the morning of April 22, a personal emissary from Davout reached the Imperial Field Headquarters. General Piré was the bearer of a new dispatch from the Danube sector, sent off at 7:00 P.M. the previous evening. Davout reported that he was more or less holding his ground, but was running dangerously short of ammunition and that there were still no signs of an Austrian retreat to his front. The Emperor dictated an important reply revealing what was in his mind. When he began the letter at 2:30 A.M. he was still determined to adhere to the plan of the 21st; he felt that Charles was delaying his main retreat only in order to give his wagon trains time to get clear, but as a precautionary move to induce the Austrians to quit the vicinity of Eckmühl, and at the same time provide assistance for Davout in case of emergency, he was ordering Vandamme to move 25,000 men to the intermediate position of Ergeltsbach with orders to contact Davout’s right flank and make a pass towards Straubing. Napoleon was reluctant to commit the remainder of the army at this stage, for he realized that if he moved in sufficient force toward either Eckmühl (en route for Ratisbon) or Straubing, he would inevitably leave the enemy with unchallenged use of the other avenue of escape, as there were not sufficient French troops available to block both. In other words, he was anxious that Charles should reveal his hand first.

Nevertheless, Napoleon decided to move his remaining formations in the general direction of Passau so as to threaten the highway to Vienna. In the meantime, Davout was given discretion to decide whether to give ground or summon aid from Vandamme toward Eckmühl if the enemy continued to hold their present positions. This order was on the point of dispatch when the Emperor received further tidings from both Davout and General Saint-Sulpice which changed the aspect of affairs. The former reiterated that there was no sign of an impending Austrian withdrawal, the latter that all roads to Straubing and Landau were quiet. As both Lannes’ and Vandamme’s outflanking moves had thus so far clearly failed to budge the archduke, the Emperor now decided to march in full force to Eckmühl after all. In a postscript to Davout’s orders added at 4:00

A.M., Napoleon wrote: “I am resolved to get on the move, and I will be near Eckmühl by midday and in a position to attack the enemy vigorously by three o’clock. I shall have 40,000 men with me. Send me aides-de-camp with Bavarian escorts to let me know what you have done during the morning….” He went on to devise a signaling system. “Before midday I shall be in person at Ergeltsbach. If I hear a cannonade, I shall know that I must attack. If I do not hear one, and you are in an attacking position, have a salvo of ten guns fired once at midday, the same at one o’clock, and again at two. My aide-de-camp, Lebrun, will be on his way to you by a quarter past four; I have decided to exterminate Prince Charles’ army today, or tomorrow at the very latest.” Thus the whole French army, save only Bessières’ 20,000 still pursuing Hiller, was about to fall on the Austrian forces at Eckmühl.

The morning of the 22nd opened in deceptive calm. For several hours of daylight neither Davout nor Lefebvre could report any notable enemy activity on their front. Then, a spurring messenger from General Pajol, stationed on the extreme left of the IIIrd Corps’ position, reported that large-scale enemy movements were in progress between the main road running beside the Danube and the village of Abbach, lying about one mile from the river bank. It appeared that the Austrians were deliberately moving to attack the left flank of the IIIrd Corps’ outlying division, and Davout lost no time in ordering up Montbrun’s cavalry in support of Friant and his neighbor Pajol. In fact, what was happening was this: the Archduke Charles planned to leave the 40,000 troops of Rosenburg and Hohenzollern to attack Davout and Lefebvre and thus protect his lines of communication with Ratisbon while the remaining two corps presently under command, namely those of Kollowrath and Lichtenstein, marched for Abbach to secure undisputed control of the river bank and thus cut Napoleon off from the Danube and his presumed lines of communication.

The Austrian plans were obviously on the point of going awry at 1:30 P.M. when the sound of gunfire from the south revealed the approach of Napoleon and the main body. Davout lost not an instant in ordering his men to attack along the whole line, despite their numerical inferiority, and this action had the desired effect of pinning the Austrians. Several deeds of great gallantry were performed; the 10th Regiment of Light Infantry for instance succeeded in storming the village of Leuchling and soon after took possession of the wood of Unter-Leuchling at the cost of crippling casualties and in face of the most determined opposition. In the meantime, the Bavarian divisions of Deroy and the Prince Royal (VIIth Corps) attacked the right of the Eckmühl position while General Demont moved up the valley of the River Gross Laber to cover the crossing of Lannes’ troops, constituting Napoleon’s advance guard. Very soon thereafter, General Vandamme’s Württembergers were in the act of capturing Buckhausen and the two divisions of Lannes’ corps were in position to fall with a will on the Austrian IVth Corps, holding the eastern approaches to Eckmühl, Gudin’s troops seizing the important heights of Rocking. For once Napoleon’s favorite battle maneuver of a frontal attack linked with an outflanking column was working with great efficiency.

With his southern flank on the point of collapse, the Austrian commander in chief lost no time in ordering an immediate retreat to Ratisbon. This movement proceeded throughout the hours of darkness, covered by the cavalry. Napoleon, meanwhile had reached Egglofsheim with Lannes and Massena, and there held a council of war with his senior generals to settle their future actions. There was a marked disinclination to order an immediate all-out pursuit of the discomfited Charles. The generals were as weary as their men, and for once Napoleon decided to follow their advice. The troops of Morand and Gudin were dropping to the ground fast asleep from where they stood in the ranks, and the Württembergers were hardly in better fettle. Weighing up the pros and cons of an immediate exploitation of his army’s success, Napoleon decided that the dangers of a full-scale night action, with all the inevitable confusions and crises this would entail, might prove too much for his men’s present condition. Consequently, only the cavalry were permitted to follow the foe. Generals Nansouty and Saint-Sulpice moved their 40 squadrons of cuirassiers and a further 34 squadrons of German cavalry to the fore of Gudin’s division and proceeded to harass the enemy horsemen throughout the night; many fierce moonlit encounters occurred. The exhausted infantry divisions meanwhile bivouacked on the field of battle. As a result, the Austrians avoided total disaster.

During the early hours of the 23rd, the leading Austrian formations began to file over the bridges of Ratisbon toward Bohemia. As soon as it was light, Napoleon launched his rested men in pursuit. Except for Massena, sent off to capture Straubing, all the army was ordered toward Ratisbon, for Napoleon was now full of eagerness to get onto the heels of Archduke Charles and attempt to finish the work commenced at Eckmühl. However, the events of the day proved frustrating in the extreme. Old though the fortifications of Ratisbon were, they were staunchly defended by Charles’ rear guard, 6,000 strong. Attack after attack on the deep ditch and fortifications beyond failed to penetrate the defenses, and at one time it appeared that there would be no alternative but to mount a full-scale, regular siege. “But to sit down in front of the walls and open siegeworks and dig trenches and emplacements and mines and batteries, would fatally delay the campaign. Under cover of the siege of Ratisbon, the Archduke Charles would quickly reorganize his defeated army.” It was impossible to ignore the place and push on directly for Vienna; such an action would only invite a future Austrian counterattack against the extended French communications by way of the city and its bridge. It seemed, therefore, that the whole campaign would have to come to a standstill until Ratisbon could be reduced. Such a check might persuade Prussia and various other dissident German states to join in the conflict on the side of Austria. This was a dire prospect which Napoleon determined to avoid at all costs; there was consequently no alternative but to order fresh assaults heedless of casualties. The task was entrusted to that reliable fire-eater, Marshal Lannes. Then, while supervising the preparations for the storm, the Emperor was slightly wounded in the right foot by a spent cannonball. The news spread like wildfire throughout the aghast army, but Napoleon lost no time in mounting his horse in spite of considerable pain and rode up and down the lines showing himself to the men and bestowing a considerable number of decorations on deserving soldiers as he passed. Confidence and morale were immediately restored.

At last all was ready for the escalade. Our informant, Baron Marbot, played a leading part in the drama that now unfolded. After two assaults by volunteers drawn from Morand’s division had failed in a costly fashion, no further troops would step forward and take the scaling ladders in hand. “Then the intrepid Lannes exclaimed, ‘Oh, well! I am going to prove to you that before I was a marshal I was a grenadier—and so I am still!’ He seized a ladder, picked it up, and started to carry it toward the breach. His aides-de-camp tried to stop him, but he shouldered us off…. I then addressed him as follows: ‘Monsieur le Maréchal, you wouldn’t want to see us dishonored—but so we shall be if you receive the slightest scratch carrying a ladder toward the ramparts, at least before all your aides have been killed!’ Then, despite his efforts, I snatched away one end of the ladder and put it on my shoulder, while Viry took the other and our fellow aides took hold of more ladders, two by two. At the sight of a Marshal of the Empire disputing with his aides-de-camp as to who should mount first to the assault, a cry of enthusiasm rose from the whole division.” A rush of officers and men followed—” the wine was drawn, it had to be drunk.” After a period of confusion and heavy loss, it was Marbot and his comrade La Bédoyère who were first up the ladders and over the walltop. By late evening, all Ratisbon was in French hands except for the outskirts surrounding the bridgehead on the northern bank.

Although Ratisbon had thus been captured by a coup de main, the bridge was still commanded by the enemy. Massena had meanwhile enjoyed no better fortune at Straubing, where he found all the crossings already destroyed. After receiving these tidings, Napoleon was compelled to concede that the Archduke Charles had escaped him, at least for the time being. The chance of a quick knockout blow, as achieved in 1800, 1805 and 1806, had this time passed him by, and the first phase of the Campaign of 1809 was over without a decisive result. Most commentators blame the way in which Napoleon insisted on sending off Massena on a wide sweep toward the River Saale on the 20th. He thus broke up the concentration of the army which he had been so determined to achieve over the preceding three days and deprived himself of a decisive superiority of force during the ensuing actions in the vicinity of the Danube. There is considerable justice in this accusation, but of course Napoleon was not gifted with second sight, which might have revealed the course events were to follow. As we have seen, he completely miscalculated the position, strength and intentions of his adversaries, and even of his own forces, on more than one occasion.

These criticisms notwithstanding, Napoleon undoubtedly changed the overall military situation beyond all recognition in the week following his arrival at the front. Berthier’s errors were retrieved, the initiative undoubtedly regained, and Charles given such a drubbing at Eckmühl that he wrote to the Austrian Emperor soon after: “If we have another engagement such as this I shall have no army left. I am awaiting negotiations.” Napoleon was clearly dominating his adversary and the road to Vienna lay open before him. Moreover, the tactical handling of the succession of battles was particularly brilliant, and over the period the Austrians lost some 30,000 casualties. This was no mean achievement when we remember that a considerable proportion of Napoleon’s army consisted of raw conscripts, and that almost all the crack formations, including the Guard, were absent from these actions. What was more, the fact that Charles was in headlong retreat proved sufficient to dissuade the wavering members of the Confederation—Bavaria, Württemberg and Saxony in particular—from deserting the French alliance. Thus Napoleon had some justification for reasonable satisfaction, and was particularly pleased with the conduct of some of his senior officers. On the 22nd, he found time to parade St. Hilaire’s division and tell its commander in front of his men: “Well, you have earned your marshal’s baton and you shall have it.” Fate, however, was to ordain otherwise. Before the coveted insignia could arrive from Paris, St. Hilaire would be dead alongside the irreplaceable Lannes and the able cavalry commander General d’Espagne—all of them destined to be casualties in the grim fighting at Aspern-Essling that lay less than a month away.

The Emperor still had not heard of the fall of Ratisbon and its intact bridge into Austrian hands.

LEIPZIG (BATTLE OF THE NATIONS)

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16–18 October 1813

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Johann Peter Krafft (1780-1856)-‘victory declaration after the battle of Leipzig, 1813’-oil on canvas-1813   Berlin-Deutsches Historiches Museum. The Battle of Leipzig, also known as the Battle of the Nations, was fought between Napoleon and the three Allied armies that had been approaching the city for several days: the Army of Bohemia (Feldmarschall Karl Philipp Fürst zu Schwarzenberg), the Army of Silesia (General Gebhard Lebrecht von Blücher), and the Army of the North (former French marshal Jean-Baptiste-Jules Bernadotte, now Crown Prince of Sweden). Napoleon suffered a major defeat, which decided the campaign in Germany. He then fell back from Saxony to France.

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Battle of Leipzig, October 16 actions.

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Battle of Leipzig, 18 October actions.

Forces Engaged

Allied: 57,000 Prussians (Army of Silesia). Commander: Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher. 160,000 Austrians and Russians (Army of Bohemia). Commander: Prince Karl von Schwarzenberg. 65,000 Swedes and Russians (Army of the North). Commander: Crown Prince Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte.

French: 160,000 men. Commander: Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

Importance

The battle at Leipzig marked the beginning of true European cooperation against Napoleon. Allied victory broke his power, leading to the invasion of France and Napoleon’s abdiction the following year.

Historical Setting

After Napoleon’s disastrous retreat from Russia at the end of 1812, during which he lost the bulk of the half-million-soldier army with which he invaded, no one in Europe expected him to recover so quickly. He reached Paris well before the news of the Russian fiasco and was able to immediately build another army by robbing future conscription rolls. That meant that most of the enrollees in the new Grande Armée were barely of military age, but they were nonetheless enthusiastic. Napoleon transferred some veterans out of Spain to stiffen the ranks with experienced fighters and then marched east toward the countries that he had long dominated and who were now organizing against him.

As Napoleon previously had conquered one European country after another, he had forced them into alliance with him. In the wake of the Russian campaign, many of those countries withdrew from their compacts. Although that weakened Napoleon’s hold on northern and eastern Europe, he needed to fear his former allies only if they combined. In early 1813, that seemed somewhat doubtful, as Russia, Prussia, Austria, and a few German principalities such as Saxony eyed each other with suspicion. They looked past the immediate danger of Napoleon’s new army to which power might try to fill the vacuum left by the French emperor’s demise, and that fear of the future almost stopped any short-term cooperation. The primary figure attempting to coordinate an anti-French alliance was Austrian Foreign Minister Karl von Metternich. He had held his post since 1807 and had brokered a marriage between Napoleon and Marie-Louise, daughter of Austria’s Emperor Francis I. In 1813, however, to bring Napoleon down, Metternich was eager to subvert the alliance that he had arranged. Convincing Russia, Prussia, and the other European powers to agree was a slow process. Still, in March, he organized the Sixth Coalition: Austria, Prussia, Russia, Sweden, and Great Britain. Soon 100,000 men were in position between Dresden and Magdeburg.

Napoleon planned to reconquer these enemies in the same way he had conquered them in the first place, by attacking each separately before they could join and present him with overwhelming numbers. He had two major problems to overcome, however. The first was the inexperience of most of his army; the second was the lack of cavalry, most of which had perished in Russia. Without the cavalry, the gathering of intelligence was severely curtailed, and thus his ability to locate enemy forces and defeat them in detail was hampered. Still, he was active in late spring and summer 1813.

On 2 May, Napoleon defeated a Prussian force outside Leipzig at Lützen, but the lack of cavalry meant that he was unaware of an enemy force on his flank until they attacked. He beat them back and occupied Leipzig, but failed to win decisively. The French quickly marched on Dresden and captured that city and then fought the Russians nearby at Bautzen on 20–21 May. Again Napoleon drove his enemy from the field, but again was unable to destroy them. In the two battles combined, both sides lost about 38,000 men each. Soon Napoleon learned of large armies marching on his position from north, south, and east, so he negotiated a truce on 4 June that lasted just over 2 months.

In that time, he continued to mass and resupply his forces, as did his enemies. Metternich met with Napoleon for 9 hours on 26 June in Dresden, but no negotiated peace settlement could be reached. Metternich offered a lasting peace on the basis of Napoleon ceding almost all the territory he had captured outside France’s natural borders. That would mean giving up the desired French border of the Rhine River, as well as French conquests in Italy and Spain. Napoleon, not surprisingly, refused. Metternich later claimed that, to brand Napoleon as the aggressor, he made a reasonable offer that he knew would not be accepted. Napoleon knew he could not accept such an offer and remain emperor of France because his people would not allow their European empire to be taken away from them without a fight. By the time the truce ended on 16 August, both sides had amassed immense forces.

The Battle

Napoleon had 300,000 men in Germany, but he placed a corps in a defensive position at the port city of Hamburg to threaten the Prussian rear and a corps at Dresden (southeast of Leipzig) near the Bohemian (Czech) border. In standard Napoleonic fashion, he had his remaining units spread out to live off the land as much as possible, but near enough together to support one another in case of attack. The allies decided that the best strategy would be to harry Napoleon’s subordinates, defeating them as often as possible while avoiding a major battle until overwhelming forces could be arrayed against him.

This they proceeded to do: Swedish Crown Prince Bernadotte (a former marshal of Napoleon) defeated Napoleon’s Marshal Oudinot at Grossbeeren, south of Berlin, on 23 August; Prussia’s Marshall Gebhard von Blücher beat Marshal Macdonald at Katzbach on 26 August. The enemy being in too many places at once, Napoleon exhausted himself and his men marching and countermarching to aid his subordinates. When he heard of an Austrian attack on Dresden, he forced his young army on yet another rapid move. He beat back the assault, but his worn out troops could not follow up the victory. More such battles took place in September and early October, and then the French withdrew back to Leipzig before allied pressure on all fronts.

On 15 October, Napoleon turned to face Blücher’s advancing Prussians from the north, but soon had to face about and deal with the larger Austrian Army of Bohemia approaching from the south. The Army of Bohemia numbered 160,000 Austrians and Russians commanded by Prince Karl von Schwarzenberg. When day broke on 16 October 1813, the field upon which Napoleon had chosen to deploy his men was covered with mist. Both sides had massed artillery, and that weapon did the most damage. The village of Wachau was the scene of most of the fighting, and it changed hands three times during the course of the day. By noon, Prince Karl’s troops held the town, and then Napoleon launched his own attack. The land across which the armies fought was crossed by a number of streams, marshes, and woods and was perfect for defense. Napoleon, however, wanted to break the Austro-Russian line with massed artillery and then turn left and roll up the allied armies arrayed in a semicircle to the east of Leipzig. Early in the afternoon, he began pummeling the Austro-Russian force with his artillery. After an hour, he ordered his cavalry under Marshal Murat to attack. Murat’s 10,000 men easily pushed back the first enemy troops they encountered, but Russian Czar Alexander quickly ordered his reserves to shift to the southern flank. When they arrived, the French cavalry was exhausted, and the Russian cavalry drove them off the field, restoring the Army of Bohemia’s lines.

As Napoleon attempted to break through in the south, he held the northern flank with minimal force. Marshal Marmont defended the town of Mockern against Blücher’s Prussians in a bitterly fought struggle. Neither Prussian nor French soldiers showed any mercy, and few prisoners were taken by either side. Marmont held the town most of the day, but in the afternoon a chance Prussian cannonball found a French ammunition wagon and the explosion not only demoralized the French troops but wounded Marmont so badly that he had to be evacuated. By day’s end, the Prussians were in possession of the ruins of Mockern.

When the sun set on 16 October, Napoleon had failed to break through the Army of Bohemia and found himself in danger of losing Leipzig to the Prussians. On the next day, however, little fighting took place. Both sides received reinforcement, however, so the battle was merely delayed. For the allies, the Swedes of Crown Prince Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte finally arrived. Had he made haste and been available on 16 October, the numbers may well have been sufficient for the northern French flank to have been overwhelmed and Napoleon trapped. His arrival, however, boosted the allied armies to 300,000 men and almost 1,500 cannon. After a halfhearted attempt at opening negotiations, Napoleon prepared to stage a fighting withdrawal. On 18 October, fighting was once again intense, and he pulled his forces back into Leipzig after a unit of Saxons under French command defected to the Prussians. That night, he ordered his men to retreat westward down the only road available, through the town of Lindenau, where the only available stone bridge across the Elster River was located. It was very narrow, however, and a bottleneck quickly formed. Napoleon ordered a force of 30,000 to remain as a rear guard, but they were unable to retreat across the Elster because of the premature destruction of the bridge. Many French troops died on the bridge or in attempts to swim across the river, and the rear guard was annihilated.

Results

Napoleon’s star, already sinking after the Russian campaign of 1812, finally set at Leipzig. Going into battle with an army less than adequately trained hurt him badly, and the loss of more than 60,000 dead, wounded, and prisoners reduced his force to 100,000 as he retreated toward France. Harassment and desertion whittled that number down to 60,000 by the time he had reached Paris. He still held the throne, but it was only a matter of time before he was forced to step down. The allies, although they also lost about 60,000 men, could better afford such casualties. They also picked up more allies. Bavaria abandoned Napoleon on 18 October, and the Netherlands as well as the collection of principalities that Napoleon had organized into the Confederation of the Rhine both rebelled against his rule in November. On 8 November, the allies once again offered a peace settlement returning France to borders behind the Alps and well back from the Rhine, and foolishly Napoleon rejected the offer. Therefore, on 21 December 1813, the allied armies crossed the Rhine and invaded France. During the first 3 months of 1814, a string of battles was fought across northern France, climaxing in the battle for Paris on 30 March. Napoleon abdicated unconditionally on 11 April and was exiled to the small island of Elba in the Mediterranean.

Napoleon had shown in those battles of early 1814 his traditional abilities to maneuver and win, but each battle depleted his already small forces. After Leipzig, it was a numbers game he could not win. Had he played his cards differently at Leipzig, however, the battle’s outcome could have been altered. Instead of leaving thousands of men defending Hamburg and Dresden, a concentration of forces could have given him the strength he needed to win. Marmont’s force holding the northern flank against the Prussians was woefully small, and with a greater attacking force against the Army of Bohemia in the south he might have broken through and won the battle. As stated earlier, the allies were cooperating but mutually suspicious; a defeat at Leipzig may have crumbled the united front and given Napoleon much more bargaining power.

The allied victory, however, strengthened Metternich’s hand and the result, in 1815, was the Concert of Europe, dedicated to maintaining a balance of power in Europe. That cooperative effort kept European countries from gaining too much individual power and kept them from fighting each other until the Crimean War in 1854. Not until the 1880s did that balance of power begin to fall apart with the ambitions of Kaiser Wilhelm in Germany. The victory at Leipzig not only proved that Napoleon could and would be beaten, but that European nations could and would profitably cooperate.

Franz Joseph’s Empire, Sisi, and Hungary I

Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph with his troops at the Battle of Solferino, 1859

On 6 October 1849, the former prime minister of Hungary, Count Louis Batthyány, was taken into the courtyard of the main gaol of Pest. An Austrian military court had condemned him to hang for treason on account of his role in promoting Hungary’s independence, but he had slit his throat several days earlier in an unsuccessful attempt at suicide. So the court changed the penalty to death by firing squad. Batthyány was so weak that he had to be carried to the place of execution; he died slumped on a chair. Several hours before, at five thirty AM, thirteen generals in what had been the army of independent Hungary were also executed in Arad Castle on the same grounds of treason, the majority by hanging. The noose was a harsh punishment, for death came not from the sudden breaking of the neck but from slow suffocation. It was intended to be humiliating, too, for the victim writhed in his agony and, at expiry, his bowels usually opened.

The executions of Batthyány and the generals came at the end of a bloody war between Hungary and the Habsburgs that had begun with Jelačić’s invasion. The country had held out for almost a year—its resources and Hungarian population ably mobilized by Kossuth and its armies expertly commanded. Even so, it was only in April 1849 that the Hungarian government proclaimed the country’s formal independence, deposing ‘the perjured house of Habsburg’ and appointing Kossuth governor and regent. Until then, Hungary’s politicians had held by the conviction that they were acting lawfully, in accordance with the terms of the April Laws, as granted by Emperor Ferdinand.

Finally, in June 1849 a Russian army invaded Hungary at the request of the new emperor, Franz Joseph (1848–1916). With the Austrian general von Haynau pressing from the west and General Paskevich’s Russians from the north, resistance collapsed. Kossuth meanwhile escaped into the Ottoman Empire. For the remainder of his long life (he died in 1894), Kossuth inveighed against Habsburg rule in Hungary, electrifying audiences in Great Britain and the United States with his oratory. His claim that he had learned English from reading Shakespeare in prison may not be true, but the story enhanced his reputation and the cause of a free Hungary. Visiting England in 1851, Kossuth received a rapturous welcome, feted by tens of thousands in every city in which he spoke. By contrast, when Haynau came to London, he was set upon by the draymen of Barclay and Perkins brewery, pelted with dung, and chased down Borough High Street.

The killing of Batthyány and the generals was the work of the young Franz Joseph, who rejected his ministers’ proposal of a comprehensive amnesty. But the emperor was not yet finished with ‘the scaffold and the bloodbath’, as one former prime minister put it, and he gave Haynau free rein in Hungary. A hundred executions followed, and several thousand long gaol sentences. Even when the Austrian prime minister, Prince Schwarzenberg, ordered Haynau to desist from killing, he carried on, until finally dismissed in July 1850. Haynau was sufficiently insensitive to buy on retirement an estate in Hungary. He never understood why his neighbours did not invite him to dinner.

Emergency rule continued in Hungary until 1854, and some offences remained under the jurisdiction of military courts for several years longer. On top of this, Hungary’s counties were abolished and replaced by administrative districts headed by appointees of the interior ministry in Vienna. Croatia, Transylvania, and the Banat together with the neighbouring Vojvodina were additionally ruled separately from Vienna as crown lands. All institutions of self-government were abolished, and German was made the language of administration. Tasks previously performed by the counties and noble landlords were now undertaken by bureaucrats, many of whom were recruited from elsewhere in the Austrian Empire.

The breakup of Hungary into districts ruled from Vienna was part of a plan that Schwarzenberg (or at least someone close to him) had hatched as early as December 1848. Developments elsewhere were more haphazard. As one of his first acts, Franz Joseph had closed the imperial parliament that had been meeting in Kroměříž. In the early hours of 7 March 1849, troops with bayonets had entered the castle where the parliament met and blocked the entrances, after which they had scoured the city, arresting several of the more radical deputies. In place of the constitutional proposals the parliament had devised, Franz Joseph imposed a constitution of his own, which as he explained was more suited to the times and less influenced by remote and theoretical ideas.

The Decreed or March Constitution was in some respects a good one. It was centralist in the sense that it envisaged one elected parliament for the whole of the Austrian Empire, including Hungary, a single central government, and one coronation. Although the emperor retained strong powers, there were layers of elected bodies, which possessed a devolved authority. The constitution additionally confirmed the abolition of serfdom previously agreed by the imperial parliament, legal equality, and that ‘all national groups are equal and that every national group has an inviolable right to the use and cultivation of its language and nationality.’

For all its merits, the constitution was a cynical ploy. Franz Joseph was out to make his mark, and he was lured by Schwarzenberg’s dream of joining the entire Austrian Empire to the German Confederation to create a massive new territorial bloc in Central Europe, in which the Habsburg emperor would be politically dominant. To win over the German princes to the scheme, Franz Joseph needed to appear as a constitutionalist who was ready to be bound by legal constraints. But by the middle of 1851, it was clear that the German rulers would not agree to a merger with the Austrian Empire, preferring to renew the Confederation set up after the defeat of France in 1814. By this time, too, Franz Joseph was casting envious eyes on Napoleon III of France, who had, as the emperor admiringly described, ‘seized the reins of power in his hands’ and made himself much more than ‘a machine for writing his signature.’

Implementation of the March Constitution went at a snail’s pace, and its provisions on local elected government were drastically pared back. Finally, on New Year’s Eve 1851, Franz Joseph issued a series of instructions, known collectively as the Sylvester Patent, that abolished the March Constitution outright and gave himself the sole right to make laws. (31 December is St Sylvester’s Day; a patent was a type of decree.) The coup was completed after the death of Schwarzenberg in April 1852, when Franz Joseph declared that he would now act in the capacity of prime minister.

The Sylvester Patent introduced a decade of neo-absolutism or neo-Caesarism, when Franz Joseph ruled as a dictator. Both terms are recent ones—at the time, the type of government practised by Franz Joseph was known simply as absolutism or more tellingly as bureaucratic absolutism, for the emperor imposed his will through the administrative apparatus. But the bureaucrats also had their own political agenda, which was to maintain the reforming programme of Joseph II, with its belief in the wisdom of state management and in social and economic progress directed from above. They even had a name for themselves: the ‘party of Enlightenment.’

Altogether, the Habsburg civil service numbered in the 1850s around fifty thousand persons, but this included junior and ancillary staff. About ten thousand belonged to the higher ‘policy service’ (Konzeptdienst), and almost all of these had received a university education, mostly in law. Those in the higher branches were overwhelmingly liberal in disposition and outlook, and disproportionately represented in the reading clubs and, during 1848, in the politics of reform. They were liberals in the sense of believing in individual empowerment, through education, legal equality, freedom of the press and of association, and the removal of economic constraints. They saw a strong state as the vehicle for a liberal programme of reform and were prepared to make concessions to it—press freedom was an early casualty. But by endorsing state intervention, the bureaucrats ‘fattened the state up’, turning it into a Leviathan that devoured the individual freedoms that their liberalism had originally championed.

The achievements of bureaucratic absolutism were massive—as one historian has put it, ‘a Josephinist fantasy come true.’ There were new institutes of science, regulations on safety in mines and the workplace, a penny-stamp postal service, new roads, telegraphs, and railways. By 1854, a thousand kilometres of track had been laid, and the Linz to České Budějovice (Budweis) line, originally built in 1832, was converted from horse to steam power. For the roads, almost ten million cubic metres of stone were laid in just three years. Experts recruited from the London Board of Works helped to dredge and canalize the Danube and Tisza rivers. Infrastructural expansion was underpinned by burgeoning coal and iron production, by a developing banking sector for commercial loans, and by the removal of customs barriers that made the Austrian Empire into a common market. Vienna, too, was transformed, with the old city walls torn down and a spacious ‘Ring’ built in its place to house the new class of entrepreneurs and industrialists created by economic modernization.

The peasantry had been freed by Joseph II in the sense that they were able to leave the land and marry without the lord’s consent. But the land they farmed still belonged to the lord, on which account they owed him dues and services performed by hand. In the early months of the revolution, the Hungarian diet had committed itself to giving the peasants the lands they farmed, but elsewhere promises were vague and piecemeal, with the terms of emancipation deferred until the imperial parliament met. The difficulties were that the lords needed some sort of compensation for their loss and that the land that the peasants farmed was of varying legal quality—some was ancestral peasant property, farmed over generations; other land was leased from the lord under contract, or else it was common land or had been cleared by the peasant personally from scrub.

The imperial parliament had shirked its obligation to facilitate emancipation by hiding behind generalities. After 1849, however, the government made a determined attempt to resolve the issues arising from emancipation. Ancestral land became the peasants’, in its entirety, with no compensation paid to landlords. All the rest was compensated for, with the state bearing the brunt of the burden, which it did through the expedient of printing bonds and distributing them slowly. The terms of compensation were worked out by commissions, and the new landowning peasants were obliged to enter details of their properties in land registers. These also recorded liens—whether the property was now leased out or mortgaged—and neighbours, kinsmen, and lenders frequently challenged the contents of the registers. The courts in Hungary alone were in the second half of the century handling seldom fewer than three hundred thousand cases a year of disputed entries, with a backlog extending to over a million.

In the past, minor disputes such as these would have gone in the first instance to manor courts, but with the abolition of landlordism had also gone the landowners’ courts and their gratis contribution to the administration of the countryside. The state had now to fill the gap, establishing across the empire 1,500 new courts and supervisory offices. Bureaucrats were despatched to the countryside to see to the implementation of directives from the centre. Their task was a hard one. The interior minister, Alexander Bach, ordered civil servants in Hungary to buy an uncomfortable uniform based on a Hungarian cavalryman’s, but it cost half a year’s salary and earned them ridicule as ‘Bach hussars.’ Underresourced and living in shabby conditions, they found it impossible to reconcile their obligations with the day-to-day realities of the countryside. Arriving in one Hungarian village, a ‘Bach hussar’ found there to be no prison: convicts were instead lodged unguarded in an inn and given a daily allowance for food.

Bach’s instructions for the civil service stressed the importance of stability, routine, and predictability of outcome in the legal and administrative process. To that end, the Austrian civil law was extended in the 1850s across the whole of the Austrian Empire, replacing in Hungary and Transylvania the arcane and largely unwritten customary law. But to meet local circumstances, the law had to be modified and adapted, thus robbing it of its regularity and uniformity. On top of this, the medley of official circulars, formulary books, clarifications, edicts, and modifications emanating from the centre rendered the law even less certain and its application in individual circumstances unpredictable. Bewildered bureaucrats frequently referred up, so that even trivial matters ended up on Bach’s desk, never to be resolved.

But there was uncertainty at the top too. Franz Joseph was unaccountable, unconstrained by either institutions or a constitution. He was inept but convinced in his own superior wisdom. In an example that shocked the British ambassador, he insisted in early 1852 that a cavalry parade take place on the cobblestones before the Schönbrunn Palace in a deep frost, even though warned of the danger. The horses toppled, killing two cuirassiers. Franz Joseph’s handling of foreign policy was equally calamitous. He did not support Tsar Nicholas in the Crimean War (1853–1856), thus letting down the ally who had come to his rescue in 1849, but neither did he back the British and the French against Russia. Diplomatically isolated, he was now prey for Napoleon III of France, whose army swept through Lombardy in 1859, assigning the province to the kingdom of Piedmont in exchange for France taking Nice and Savoy. It did not help that halfway through the campaign Franz Joseph appointed himself commander. His generalship led directly to the bloodbath of the Battle of Solferino. Two years later, having overrun the Habsburg-ruled duchies of Parma, Modena, and Tuscany, the king of Piedmont was proclaimed king of Italy.

Franz Joseph’s Empire, Sisi, and Hungary II

Kaiser Franz Josef I und Kaiserin Elisabeth

In April 1859, the Austrian National Bank collapsed, refusing to honour its own currency. Franz Joseph had treated the bank as a ‘grand state treasury’, taking what he needed, and he simply did not understand what it meant when earlier that year his agents had been refused a loan on the London market. The bankers would not lend to an unaccountable monarch. Anselm Rothschild put it bluntly: ‘No constitution, no money.’ Franz Joseph’s own finance minister, Karl Ludwig von Bruck, went further. The absolutist experiment had not lived up to expectations and had failed to harness the energies of the Austrian Empire, he wrote. Centralization should be ‘cooled down’ and a ‘sound, enduring constitution’ imposed, but not one that revived the antique arrangements of the past.

Typically, Franz Joseph did exactly what Bruck advised him not to do. Casually commenting to his mother that ‘we will now have a little parliamentarism’, he resuscitated an older institution, the imperial council or Reichsrat, packing it with his aristocratic chums in the hope that it would be mistaken for a parliament. To further the deception, he also recalled the diets so that they might send representatives to join the imperial council, but only ones whom he approved. In the October Diploma of 1860 (a diploma is a solemn decree, stronger than a patent), Franz Joseph declared this Pinocchio’s nose of a constitution to be ‘permanent and irrevocable’, but the bankers still refused to lend. Ignaz von Plener, who had replaced Bruck as finance minister, was adamant in his advice to Franz Joseph. Financial stability could only be assured, he explained, when the National Bank was freed from governmental interference and when borrowing was subject to oversight by genuinely representative institutions.

Franz Joseph gave way. Setting aside the ‘permanent and irrevocable’ October Diploma, he issued the so-called February Patent of 1861. Technically explanatory of the October Diploma, the patent gave the Austrian Empire a real parliament, even though it retained the old name of the imperial council. It was made up of two houses—an Upper House of high aristocrats and churchmen and a Lower House comprising deputies sent by the diets—whose consent was needed for all legislation. New regulations published at the same time laid down qualifications for voting to the diets, extending the franchise to about a quarter of the adult male population and introducing a complicated procedure for casting ballots that advantaged the German-speaking population.

The February Patent kept many of the emperor’s powers, including over the army and foreign policy. Most importantly, the emperor chose the government, and ministers were responsible to him. Invariably, Franz Joseph appointed bureaucrats and not politicians to the ministries. Having served in the administration, they were more likely to be loyal to him, and in any case he valued expertise more than political posturing. A bureaucratic elite, therefore, still made most of the important political decisions. On top of this, legislation was frequently enacted in the form of administrative decrees that bypassed the parliamentary process entirely. Bureaucratic absolutism thus gave way not to government by democratic institutions but instead to bureaucratic constitutionalism.

At the head of the apparatus remained the man who described himself as his empire’s ‘first civil servant.’ At work by five in the morning, Franz Joseph busied himself with paperwork, often correcting ministerial drafts or rewriting them entirely. His office routine was broken by meetings with his ministers and, twice a week, with general audiences at which any of his subjects might petition to see him. Here his bureaucratic routines proved their worth, for a filing system meant that he could keep up with every petitioner—whether he had visited before and, if so, what his concerns had been, and the remedies given. Franz Joseph kept going throughout the day on Virginia cigarettes and coffee, which he replaced in old age with mild cigars and tea. The knowledge he acquired of matters of state was formidable, but it lay unsorted in his mind, with trivial matters of protocol often uppermost.

Franz Joseph treasured the Austrian presidency of the German Confederation, for it provided a vehicle for projecting power as far afield as the Baltic and North Sea, as well as suggesting dynastic continuity with the old Holy Roman Empire. As late as 1863, Franz Joseph was still hoping to be offered the German imperial crown. But Prussia also had ambitions to leadership in Germany, which the Prussian ambassador to the Confederation, Otto von Bismarck, expressed with typical forcefulness. In 1862, on the eve of his appointment as the prime minister of Prussia, Bismarck explained to the Conservative politician Benjamin Disraeli in London how he planned to reorganize the Prussian army. Then, he went on, ‘I shall seize the first best pretext to declare war against Austria, dissolve the German Confederation, subjugate the minor states and give national unity to Germany under Prussian leadership. I have come here to say this to the Queen’s ministers.’ But Bismarck did not just say it to the British government—the Austrian ambassador was also in the room with Disraeli.

In Franz Joseph’s case, forewarned was not forearmed. On the flimsiest of pretexts, Prussia declared war on the Austrian Empire, defeating the Habsburg army in a lightning campaign waged over seven weeks in 1866. The kingdom of Italy, Prussia’s ally, counted on the winning side, even though defeated at sea at Lissa (Vis) in the Adriatic in the first fleet battle to involve ironclad warships. Italy was now rewarded with Venice, while Bismarck rolled up all the states north of the River Main into a new North German Confederation under Prussian presidency. Less than five years later, the South German states gave way, joining Bismarck’s newly proclaimed German Empire. The Habsburg link to the German lands, which had persevered throughout the history of the dynasty and had survived both Napoleon and 1848, was now finally severed.

In less than twenty years, Franz Joseph had lost Lombardy, Venice, and the German Confederation. The Austrian Empire had shrunk back into Central Europe. On top of this, it stood to lose even more, for Hungary was far from pacified. Rumours of insurrection circulated there, fanned from abroad by Kossuth. The roughness of Austrian rule was summed up in 1858 by the governor of Hungary, Archduke Albrecht. When asked by a Hungarian delegation to restore the kingdom’s ancient constitution, Albrecht grabbed his sword, exclaiming, ‘This is my constitution.’ Unsurprisingly, the diet summoned in 1861 to select deputies for the parliament in Vienna refused point-blank to cooperate and even questioned whether Franz Joseph was Hungary’s lawful king. The imperial parliament that met in Vienna, in a temporary wooden structure on the new Ring, was accordingly eighty-five deputies short. Hoping to break Hungary’s will, Franz Joseph ramped up the politics of coercion, only to be faced by a tax strike.

Hungary was saved for the Habsburgs by the intervention of two people. The first was the lawyer and politician Ferenc Deák. Deák argued that the public law of Hungary rested on two instruments—the April Laws of 1848 that had granted Hungary independence and Charles VI’s Pragmatic Sanction that had declared Hungary an ‘inseparable and indivisible’ part of the Habsburg lands. The trick was to arrive at a compromise that bridged the two documents, and Deák saw how this could be done. The second to intercede on Hungary’s behalf was more unexpected—Franz Joseph’s wife, Empress Elizabeth, whom he had married in 1854, when she was just sixteen.

Elizabeth or ‘Sisi’ was, in the words of Franz Joseph’s valet, ‘a world away from being the ideal wife.’ Wilful and self-obsessed, she luxuriated in her own beauty. Having done her duty by providing a male heir, she travelled, flitting between health spas, Corfu, and England. There were visits in between to Monte Carlo, where she played the tables, and long cruises in the Mediterranean, in token of which she sported an anchor tattoo on her shoulder. Much has been said of her that is not true. For most of her life, she kept her waist at 16.5 inches in diameter (42 centimetres), but she was neither too thin for the corsets of the time nor anorexic. Although she periodically dieted, she normally ate a healthy breakfast with wine, a meat dish for lunch, but little for supper, since coffee and cigarettes had by the evening robbed her of her appetite (she chain-smoked, including in the state carriage). Even so, she exercised vigorously, having her own gymnasium in the Hofburg, where her high bar and balancing rings survive, and she was a distinguished equestrian. In England, she rode to hounds with the Northamptonshire Hunt, but it is unlikely that she had an affair with the Scottish huntsman Bay Middleton, despite a tantalizing aside in one of her daughters’ diaries. Franz Joseph’s valet hinted at liaisons, and she did sometimes behave peculiarly with men, but beyond that we know nothing.

Sisi’s education in Bavaria had been erratic, since her father had eccentrically imagined that she would in time join a circus troupe, so she was largely self-taught. She spoke fluent English, Hungarian, and demotic Greek, and composed some exquisite romantic poetry in the manner of Heinrich Heine, on whose works she was an acknowledged expert. Her husband by contrast was a bore. It is not true that he only read the Army List—he also read the newspapers’ military supplements. Franz Joseph was a stickler for etiquette, mainly because in its absence he did not know what was appropriate. Although he may not have presented himself to his bride on their wedding night in full regimental uniform (as has been alleged), he did attend one of his wife’s hunts dressed in Lederhosen. Franz Joseph had affairs, but probably not with the burly actress Frau Schratt, with whom he is usually associated. His preference was for married middle-class women with a home to go to, the husbands having been bought off.

Franz Joseph’s letters to Sisi (his survive, but not hers to him) are extraordinary in their affection and intimacy. She is ‘my heavenly angel’, ‘my darling’, ‘sweet soul’, and he signs off ‘your little one’ or ‘the manikin’ (Männeken)—he was shorter than she. They share family news, gossip, and private jokes, so Schratt is either ‘the girlfriend’ or on account of her tantrums ‘the minister of war.’ In his study, Franz Joseph hung a portrait of Sisi in a loose robe, with her hair cascading to her waist and giving only the faintest smile. (In fact, her hair reached to her ankles, and she never opened her mouth to smile for fear of showing her irregular teeth.) Yet their meetings were often tempestuous and even violent, with furniture thrown. Clearly, the relationship succeeded best at a distance.

Sisi first visited Hungary in 1857 and was charmed by the lack of stiff ceremony there. Free from oversight, she was able to disport with Gypsies and jugglers, and to enjoy the effusive attentions of the Hungarian aristocracy. She also came to know the leading Hungarian nobleman, Count Andrássy, and the lawyer Ferenc Deák, both of whom were willing to negotiate with Franz Joseph. Sisi recommended them to Franz Joseph. Although Andrássy had only recently been amnestied for his part in the Hungarian War of Independence, Sisi succeeded in having Franz Joseph meet him. To his surprise, the emperor found the count to be ‘brave, honourable, and highly gifted.’ At Sisi’s insistence too, he met secretly with Deák, reporting their conversation back to her in cipher. For more than a year, the empress acted as an intermediary, relaying messages between her husband and the Hungarian political leaders, and stiffened the resolve of the two sides to make a deal. Behind the scenes, she pressed the emperor to show flexibility, in letters that told him explicitly what to do.

Sisi’s intervention was not decisive, for Franz Joseph would eventually have had to come to terms with Hungary, but she facilitated the meetings that led to a solution and worked on her husband to be better disposed to the Hungarian leaders. The result was the Compromise or Settlement of 1867. Devised by Deák, it gave Hungary independence while keeping it in the Habsburg Empire, thus squaring the April Laws with the Pragmatic Sanction. The Compromise gave the kingdom its own government and parliament, with an Upper House of dignitaries and an elected Lower House, but the emperor as king of Hungary appointed the government. To satisfy Hungarian demands, Transylvania was also fully absorbed into Hungary, and Hungarian law replaced the Austrian civil code. In June 1867, Franz Joseph and Elizabeth were crowned king and queen of Hungary, with the Holy Crown being placed on their heads consecutively, and she, too, was invested with the royal sceptre and orb. It was an honour never given before to a queen of Hungary.

In 1867, Franz Joseph published constitutions for both halves of the empire. From this point onwards, the Habsburg Empire comprised two equal parts—a Hungarian part and a part for all the rest, which included the Austrian lands, Bohemia, Polish Galicia, the Adriatic coastline, and so on. The second had no obvious name and was officially known as the Lands and Kingdoms Represented in the Imperial Council, and unofficially as ‘this side of the Leitha’ (Cisleithania: the River Leitha marked Hungary’s western border). The two halves remained, however, ‘inseparable and indivisible’, in the understanding of the Pragmatic Sanction. Foreign policy and the army were regarded as ‘common matters’ and were overseen by ‘common ministries’ of foreign affairs and war, to which was added a third ministry of finance, with responsibility for funding the other two. In all other respects, the two governments were separate, with the prime minister of Hungary regarding his counterpart in Vienna as only a ‘distinguished foreigner.’ Since Hungary now had its own government, the name of the empire changed from the Austrian Empire to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (or Austria-Hungary for short). The adjective ‘imperial-royal’ (kaiserlich-königlich, or k.k.) was also replaced with ‘imperial and royal’ (kaiserlich und königlich, or k.u.k.), signalling Hungary’s new status.

Above the ministries sat the Crown Council, made up of the three common ministers, the prime ministers of Hungary and Cisleithania, and whomever else Franz Joseph chose to invite. The Crown Council was the emperor’s instrument and how he kept control of foreign policy and the army. The new Austro-Hungarian Empire or ‘dual monarchy’ had parliaments, and ‘this side of the Leitha’ also had elected diets, but its government was not parliamentary. The emperor conducted his own foreign policy and military deployments, with minimal parliamentary oversight. Franz Joseph also kept the right to legislate by decree, again with few constraints, which meant that he could bypass or substitute for the parliamentary process. When the going was tough, he even had the power to close the parliament in Vienna (but not the one in Hungary) and to impose ministries without parliamentary approval. To that extent at least, absolutism survived.

More importantly, the empire survived, but it was not just a matter of finding a constitutional formula to satisfy Hungarian aspirations. Franz Joseph was unloved in Hungary, not least for killing the kingdom’s generals, but Sisi had the glamour and passion for Hungary that reconciled Hungarians to Habsburg rule. She was their queen, who spoke their language, wore their national dress, and went to hunt in their fields. Back in 1866, Sisi had asked Franz Joseph to buy her Gödöllő Palace, just outside Pest. He had grumpily refused, explaining that ‘in these hard times, we must save mightily.’ The next year, the newly installed Hungarian government led by Count Andrássy bought it for her, as the gift of the nation on her coronation.

Andrássy had no doubt of Sisi’s contribution to the 1867 settlement between the monarch and Hungary. But for the other nations of the new Austro-Hungarian Empire, Sisi showed little interest, being particularly disdainful of Czechs and Italians. Her inconsistency and eccentricities should not, however, conceal the way her intervention in Hungarian affairs fitted into a larger pattern of queenly conduct. Because of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), Maria Theresa, and Catherine the Great of Russia (1762–1796), we tend to think of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a period when female rulers prospered. In fact, there were fewer regnant queens then than in preceding centuries, and females were expressly barred from the succession in Bourbon France and Spain, Sweden (after 1720), and Prussia.

It was, instead, as consorts that queens became influential, directing matters of state behind the scenes and rebuilding the image of monarchy. Leopoldine of Brazil set the pace, for, besides designing the Brazilian flag, she pushed her cautious husband into declaring independence in the first place. But in some ways the closest parallel to Sisi was Queen Alexandra, the consort of Britain’s Edward VII (1901–1910). Elegant, striking in appearance, and a meddler in politics, Alexandra too had a husband whose reign as King Edward the Caresser had commenced amongst the lowest of expectations but whose eventual acceptance and rehabilitation owed much to her own reputation.