Austro-Prussian War (1866)

Causes of the Austro-Prussian War (1866)

The Convention of Gastein of August 14, 1865, provided for joint Prussian and Austrian sovereignty over Schleswig and Holstein. Austria would administer Holstein, and Prussia would have charge of Schleswig. Lauenburg was awarded to Prussia outright in return for a payment of 2.5 million thalers. Austrian Schleswig was thus an enclave within Prussian territory.

Bismarck now skillfully worked to create tension between Prussia and Austria to bring about war. He was confident that Prussia could defeat Austria militarily, but he needed to secure the neutrality of the other major powers. Russia was still grateful to Bismarck for his actions in helping to put down the Polish revolt of 1863 and also wanted to see Austria humbled for having blocked its aspirations against the Ottoman Empire.

France was another matter, however. For centuries French interests had been served by a divided Germany. In October 1865, Bismarck met with French emperor Napoleon III at Biarritz and secured French neutrality by allowing Napoleon to believe that, following a Prussia victory, France would be allowed to annex Belgium and Luxembourg or receive other territorial compensation along the Rhine. On his part, Napoleon expected Austria to win the war or for it to be lengthy, as the last war between Prussia and Austria had lasted from 1756 to 1763. If protracted, France could enter the conflict late and dictate a settlement advantageous to itself.

Napoleon actually encouraged the war, urging Bismarck to take the Kingdom of Italy as an ally to tie down Austrian forces in the south and receive Venetia from Austria in compensation. Napoleon could thus gain credit with Italy as furthering Italian unification.

In November 1865 the Prussian government offered to buy Holstein outright from Austria in a cash settlement, as with Lauenburg. Vienna refused. This may have been Austrian emperor Franz Joseph I’s worst mistake, for had Vienna done so, this would have made it far more difficult for Bismarck to create war.

Italy was at first reluctant to ally with Prussia in fear that Prussia might lose. So anxious for war was Napoleon, however, that he guaranteed Italy Venetia no matter the outcome. On April 8, 1866, Prussia and Italy concluded an offensive alliance against Austria in which Italy insisted that the war had to occur within three months.

On June 12 with war between Prussia and Austria apparently inevitable, Austria concluded a secret treaty with France. In return for a pledge by Napoleon III to work to ensure Italian neutrality, Austria agreed to cede Venetia to France, which would then cede it to Italy, no matter the war’s outcome. In the event of an Austrian victory, Vienna would consult with Napoleon III on any major changes in Germany. Austria also made a verbal promise not to oppose the creation of a new French dominated state along the Rhine.

Bismarck now worked to create the war. Casting himself as a good liberal, he ordered the Prussian representative to the Diet of the German Confederation at Frankfurt to demand that the body be abolished and a new German political entity based on universal manhood suffrage be created without the participation of Austria. The thrust of this, of course, was to bring on war.

Both sides commenced military mobilization, and Austria foolishly allowed its governor of Holstein on June 6 to call its Diet into session to discuss the future of the duchy. Bismarck denounced this as contrary to the Convention of Gastein and ordered Prussian troops into the duchy. On June 14 on the motion of Austria, the Diet of the German Confederation at Frankfurt voted for war against Prussia for the latter’s invasion of Holstein. The vast majority of the German states, including Bavaria, Hanover, and Saxony, sided with Austria. Prussia declared this a violation of the federal constitution and also declared the German Confederation to be at an end.

Course of the Austro-Prussian War (1866)

Although the war also involved Italy, it is generally referred to as the Austro Prussian War or, for its duration, the Seven Weeks’ War. Bismarck intended it to be short. Fighting occurred in three theaters: Germany, Bohemia, and Italy.

Chief of the Prussian General Staff General von Moltke sought to make maximum use of the railroad and telegraph to strike quickly and catch his opponents by surprise. Austria, meanwhile, had done little to prepare for a two-front war that would involve Italy, which declared war on June 20.

With the south German states slow to mobilize, Moltke sent General Vogel von Falkenstein’s 40,000-man West Army against Hanover’s 19,000-man army under King George and General Alexander von Arentschildt before it could link up with the Bavarian Army. The West Army entered Hanover and converged on the Hanoverians at Langensalza (Bad Langensalza) from the south, west, and north.

Eager for glory, General Eduard Flies, commanding the southern Prussian force, disregarded Moltke’s orders and attacked prematurely on June 27 before the other Prussian forces could arrive. Flies’s men were badly mauled by the Hanoverians and were forced to withdraw in disorder. This victory went for naught, however, as the next day the other Prussian corps arrived, and on June 29 Hanoverian king George was forced to surrender at Nordhausen. The Prussians disarmed the Hanoverians and sent them home.

Meanwhile, the bulk of the German forces were moving southward against the Austrians, placed by intelligence reports concentrating northwest of Olmütz (present-day Olomouc in the Czech Republic). Moltke utilized the railroad to move and the telegraph to coordinate three separate Prussian armies. Prussian king Wilhelm I had nominal commands. The Army of the Elbe, under General Karl Herwarth von Bittenfeld, occupied Dresden in Saxony on June 19, then moved to join the First Army under Prince Friedrich Karl to enter Bohemia via passes in the Erzgebirge and Riesengebirge during June 22-23. Meanwhile, the Second Army under Crown Prince Friedrich moved south through Silesia.

At Münchengrätz on June 28, the Army of the Elbe and the First Army joined to defeat retreating Saxon troops under Prince Albert and the Austrian I Corps under General Count Eduard Clam-Gallas. The Prussians suffered 341 casualties and inflicted some 2,000 (1,400 of them prisoners). There was also fighting at Burkersdorf, Rudersdorf, and Skalice (Skalitz).

Austrian General Ritter Ludwig August von Benedek commanded the Austria North Army and allied Saxon forces in Silesia. An incompetent strategist whose military experience was confined to Italy, he had never before commanded large numbers of troops. Meanwhile, the far more capable Field Marshal Archduke Friedrich Rudolf Albrecht was assigned command of Austrian forces in Italy, where the House of Habsburg was most likely to be victorious.

On July 2, Moltke learned that Benedek’s North Army was concentrating along the upper Elbe, north of Königgrätz (today Hradec Kralové). The Austrians were within striking distance of two of Moltke’s armies, Bittenfeld’s Army of the Elbe and Prince Friedrich Karl’s First Army. In numbers of men, the two sides were about equal. Moltke commanded about 221,000 men and 702 guns, while Benedek commanded some 206,000 men (184,000 Austrians and 22,000 Saxons) and 650 guns. The Prussians had a distinct advantage in small arms, however. Their Dreyse breech loading needle gun could fire six times as fast as the Austrian Lorenz muzzle-loader.

Moltke, who was in contact with all three of his advancing armies by telegraph, attempted a double envelopment. That night, however, the telegraph link with Crown Prince Friedrich’s Second Army broke down. Moltke nonetheless decided to proceed with the other two armies and sent a courier to ride the 20 miles to the crown prince to tell him to bring up his army as soon as possible.

Cavalry engagement at the battle of Königgrätz (Alexander von Bensa, 1866).

The ensuing Battle of Königgrätz (Hradec Kralové), also known as the Battle of Sadowa (Sadova), was the largest European land battle until World War I. The Army of the Elbe and the First Army at tacked in a pouring rain at dawn on July 3. Crowded onto too narrow a front, they thus were ideal targets for the Austrian artillery but were saved only by foolish Austrian bayonet counterattacks, which forestalled the artillery and brought little result. Nonetheless, by 11:00 a. m. the Austrians had blunted the Prussian attacks. Benedek might have won the day had he committed his cavalry, but he refused. At about 1:30 p. m., the Prussian Second Army at last arrived and fell on the Austrian northern line, quickly reversing the situation. Benedek ordered a retreat, covered by his artillery. Moltke did not pursue.

Austrian and Saxon losses were nearly five times those of Prussia. The Prussians sustained some 9,000 casualties (1,900 killed, 6,800 wounded, and 275 missing). Austrian and Saxon losses were roughly 44,000 (5,735 killed, 8,440 wounded, some 22,000 prisoners, and 7,925 missing). Austria also lost 116 guns. The battle was decisive. With its heavy losses, on July 22 Vienna had no choice but to agree to an armistice on Prussian terms.

To the south, the Italian strategic plan called for an invasion of Austrian Venetia along the Mincio and Po Rivers by 200,000 men and 370 guns, defended by Archduke Albrecht’s Austrian South Army, with only 75,000 men and 168 guns. The critical battle of the campaign occurred at the old battlefield of Custoza, southwest of Verona. In a major tactical blunder, Italian commander General Alfonso Ferrero di La Marmora, who was unaware of the South Army’s strength and dispositions, managed to get only 65,000 troops and 122 guns across the Mincio before they were confronted by virtually the entire Austrian South Army.

In the daylong Battle of Custoza on June 24, the Austrians defeated the Italians piecemeal, with the Austrian Light Cavalry Brigade playing the major role and the Italians driven back across the Mincio into Lombardy. Albrecht did not pursue. The Italians suffered 3,800 killed or wounded and 4,300 taken prisoner. Austrian casualties were 4,600 killed or wounded and 1,000 missing. Despite the outcome of the battle, on July 3 Napoleon III arranged the transfer of Venetia to France, then ceded it to Italy.

Given command of 10,000 men and a flotilla on Lake Garda, Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi fought a series of small, indecisive engagements with the Austrians during July 3-21. He was about to attack Trent when he was ordered to withdraw. Bismarck made it clear to the Italian government that it would not be allowed to se cure part of the Trentine Tyrol.

The only sea battle of the war was at Lissa in the Adriatic on July 20, between virtually the entire Italian and Austrian Na vies. Commanders proved important. The incompetent Admiral Count Carlo Pel lion di Persano commanded the Italians; capable young rear admiral Wilhelm von Tegetthoff had charge of the Austrian side. Persano sortied on July 15. He proceeded not to Pola, where the Austrian fleet was located, but against the Austrian island of Lissa. For two days the Italians bombarded Lissa with little effect. Persano was landing men there when informed of the Austrian approach. Tegetthoff had 21 ships, Persano 31. Each side had a half dozen ironclads. Tegetthoff immediately attacked and won the battle, with the Italians withdrawing. The Italians lost 2 ships; 4 others were badly damaged (1 of which subsequently sank). They also suffered 619 dead and 39 wounded. The Austrians had only several ships damaged and 38 men killed and 138 wounded. The Battle of Lissa was the first between oceangoing ironclad fleets at sea and the only major fleet encounter between ironclads in which the principal tactic was to ram the opposing vessel.

On July 5 a badly shaken Napoleon III had offered his good offices to end the war. Bismarck accepted on condition that the terms of peace were agreed to before any armistice was concluded. Napoleon, ill and his army unready to intervene, agreed to the Prussian terms imposed in the Preliminary Peace of Nikolsburg in southern Moravia on July 26. Prussia annexed the states of Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, and Nassau as well as the free city of Frankfurt. The German Confederation was abolished, and Austria was excluded from German affairs. Prussia then reorganized Germany north of the Main River into the North German Confederation under its leadership. The south German states of Bavaria, Baden, and Württemberg remained independent. King William I wanted an indemnity, a parade in Vienna, and additional territory from Austria, but Bismarck set himself against this and won his point. Austria retained all its territory, and there was no indemnity. The August 23 Peace of Prague merely confirmed these terms.

The long struggle between Prussia and Austria for mastery in the Germanies, which began with the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740, was over. Prussia now dominated Germany.


Battle of Reichenbach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Affair of Teplitz

August 2, 1762

During August 1762 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 overnight, 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.

Engagement at Döebeln

May 12,1762

In Saxony in 1762, an Austrian move opposite to him that first caused Prussian Prince 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. General Kanitz and his men pushed on to Gadewitz, while Friedrich Wilhelm von 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 Friedrich Wilhelm Gottfried Arnd von Kleist [‘Green’ 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.


War and a New Austrian State

Johann Peter Krafft: Die Sieger von Aspern, painted 1820.
Battle of Aspern-Essling, 23 October 2014.

Starting in 1789 a revolution in France that became increasingly radical in tenor began to cause concern among the other rulers of Europe, especially Leopold II, Queen Marie Antoinette’s brother. The revolutionary regime declared war on Austria and Prussia in the spring of 1792, and its army unexpectedly defeated the Austrians and Prussians at the Battle of Valmy in September 1792. Revolutionary France now plunged Europe into a quarter of a century of ongoing warfare. Earlier in that same year in March, Leopold himself had died unexpectedly, well before he had fully resolved the dangerous situation bequeathed to him by his brother, Joseph. Leopold’s eldest son, Francis (1768–1830), who began his reign as Francis II of the Holy Roman Empire and ended it as Francis I of the Austrian Empire, was no scion of the Enlightenment like his father and uncle. Moreover, the first two decades of his long reign (1792–1835) were overshadowed by the need to stave off recurring military challenges from France that threatened the very survival of his dynasty’s patrimony. This left few options for creative initiatives in state building. When combined with Francis’s particularly cautious personality traits, all of these unexpected demands produced a conservative and defensive approach to maintaining the existing state. Like both his uncle, Joseph, and father, Leopold, however, Francis did see himself as a devoted servant both of the state and of the law. Like both of them, he also pursued a fundamentally centralizing agenda. Unlike his father, however, Francis was unsympathetic to even limited ideas of constitutional reform. Unlike his uncle, Francis had a very limited imagination. His bureaucracy was not there to reform society. Rather, the bureaucracy served to maintain order and legality in society.

Francis’s image of the ideals that his bureaucrats should embody also differed from Joseph’s. Not only did they have to live up to the exacting standards of work laid forth for them by Joseph II, and for less pay in a time of terrible wartime inflation, but increasingly their private lives also became objects of state interest. A bureaucrat’s private life had not particularly interested Joseph; he had cared only about how well a man did his job. Contemporaries, however, often interpreted the social upheavals caused by the French Revolution as products of private moral decay. Thus under Francis, an Austrian bureaucrat’s private life came to outweigh his particular knowledge or accomplishments when he applied for a post. Now a bureaucrat’s (and his family’s) morals and religiosity counted more than his education and experience. This had implications well beyond death or gender, since a bureaucrat’s widow had to remain morally “above reproach” if she hoped to receive a pension and his daughter likewise had to be considered virtuous if she hoped to qualify for a scholarship to a young lady’s academy.

Francis’s attitude toward the very purpose of his state service created considerable problems once the long wartime emergency had ended. Unlike both his father and uncle, he also believed that the interests of the crown and the crownland aristocracies were essentially one. Thus, despite the fact that many Josephenists remained in their positions, one historian has called Francis’s system “absolutist and centralist in its institutions, but usually aristocratic and ultra conservative in the conduct of them.”

After the first few years of war, when surprisingly good harvests had kept food prices low, war began to cause inflation and food shortages in many parts of the monarchy, especially in the cities and towns. By 1795 the government was printing paper money to cover the added costs of war, and by 1797—as a result of a panic caused by fears that Napoleon would take Vienna—silver was completely withdrawn from circulation, and state employees and state creditors had to accept paper bills as their payment.

Conditions for urban working people deteriorated drastically during the war for a variety of reasons, while the city and town populations nevertheless continued to grow. In the first years of the war Viennese journeymen in the textile industry protested openly against their employers’ increasing use of unskilled female and child labor. The protestors, however, tended to blame their employers and not local women. Almost twenty years later, crowds attacked bakeries, took paper money from the till, and tore it up to general jubilation. Meanwhile, the gentlemen of the textile industry throughout the monarchy often profited handsomely from the war, thanks to military contracts for uniforms and other supplies, and later thanks to Napoleon’s blockade of British goods from the European continent.

War also produced mounting fears of subversion on the part of the regime. Starting in 1800, the state for the first time required bureaucrats to swear an annual oath of loyalty. The regime also acted to limit those spaces in society where it believed that subversion might develop. It closed down Freemason associations and cracked down harshly on the alleged “Jacobin conspiracies” it unearthed in Vienna, Tyrol, Hungary, Carinthia, and Carniola. These so-called “Jacobin conspiracies,” named after the radical French political party of the mid 1790s, tended to involve civil servants, educated men who had served Joseph II and Leopold II and who hoped to inject more of a reform orientation into the reign of Francis II. Many of them generally supported programs that were hardly radical by the standards of the 1790s. Indeed, among the plans developed by the most radical of the conspirators was one to convoke an empire-wide people’s parliament (Volksrat), suggesting that even they did not question the existence of the empire; they questioned merely its particular style of rule. Nonetheless, those conspiracies that the police managed to uncover were treated with incredible severity, and several ended in executions. Still, the war saw no diminution of the popular eighteenth-century coffee houses and other social meeting places in towns and cities throughout the monarchy. If anything, in the towns at least, coffee houses took on new roles as sites where the latest news about the war could be exchanged and debated.

On the other hand, Emperor Francis opposed mobilizing popular patriotism for his empire during most of the two decades of war. While a few other central European monarchs—especially the King of Prussia—embarked on significant experiments with reform programs to rebuild their military and create popular support for war, Francis did so only with the greatest reluctance. Anything that promoted social reform or worse still, popular enthusiasm, once unleashed, might not be so easily contained. So it fell to others to advance the wartime popularity of the emerging Habsburg state and of the new Austrian Empire that Francis eventually proclaimed in 1804. Already in 1796, for example, as French armies in northern Italy neared the Austrian border, the governor of Lower Austria, Count Francis Joseph von Saurau, commissioned poet Leopold Haschka to write a text to encourage patriotic enthusiasm for Austria’s cause. Saura then persuaded composer Joseph Haydn to set the text to music. Haydn referred to his composition specifically as the “peoples’ song” (Volkslied). On February 12, 1797, on the occasion of the emperor’s birthday, this now famous “Emperor’s Song,” or “God Save Our Emperor,” was first performed in theaters across the empire (the emperor himself heard it in the Court Theater). The song, translated into all the vernacular languages of the monarchy, would become Imperial Austria’s official anthem later in the nineteenth century.

Finally, after losing three consecutive wars against France (in 1793, 1799, and 1805), and with several Austrian territories under foreign occupation (the Bavarians occupied Tyrol, while the French took parts of the empire’s new Adriatic holdings), Emperor Francis reluctantly approved some cautious efforts to reform Austrian society to build wartime patriotism. This brief reform period was nothing like that engaged in by Prussia during this time, and we should keep a clear sense of proportion in mind when examining the changes themselves. Nevertheless, it is apparent that the few reforms the government did propose helped to build a greater sense of common purpose and identification among the emperor’s subjects. The emperor’s brother Field Marshal Archduke Charles (1772–1847) carried out the most far reaching of these administrative reforms: he dismissed twenty-five generals, worked to humanize military discipline, implemented the new idea of reserve battalions, and promoted plans to create a popular “people’s militia.” For his part, the emperor proclaimed his intention to allow society a freer intellectual life (including support for literature) and to establish more schools, but expectations that he would abolish censorship were disappointed, as were expectations that he would reform the scope of the secret police (whom Francis had spy on his popular brothers as well as on ordinary Austrians).

As Austria prepared for the War of the Fifth Coalition against Napoleon in 1809, the emperor’s popular—and some have argued more capable—brother Archduke Johann (1782–1859), organized Austrian men into a home militia (Landwehr). The militia was compulsory for all men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five who were not already serving in the military and was instituted in the hereditary provinces and the Bohemian lands. At the same time, the government also created a comparable institution in Hungary called the insurrectio. In Galicia, however, where the regime rightly suspected the Polish nationalist elite of harboring sympathy for Napoleon’s promise to reconstitute an independent Poland, the regime created a reserve instead.

The home militia, or Landwehr, attained considerable emblematic significance as an interregional all-Austrian patriotic institution. Symbolizing the universal mobilization of all Austrians and their commitment to an interregional defense, the militia demonstrated that the war was not waged on behalf of far-away rulers and that it instead involved the “Austrian people”—all classes, all generations, sometimes even both genders—sacrificing to defend their common interest. In 1813, only four years after the creation of the militia, during the War of the Sixth Coalition, also referred to as the War of Liberation, painter Johann Peter Krafft portrayed a determined young man dressed as a militiaman, with rifle in hand, leaving his family for the war in The Departure of the Militiaman, a popular painting that represented the militiaman in general as the embodiment of the Austrian people’s sacrifice and of their enthusiasm for the common cause.

The setting of the painting is domestic, depicting the interior of a modest rural hut that nevertheless contains several articles of furniture and décor that indicate the solid prosperity enjoyed by the family. The scene is also intergenerational, showing the parents of the militiaman weeping and praying, while his wife and three children are saying goodbye. Another militiaman accompanies the subject of this painting, and through a small window we see many others departing in a hilly landscape. There is nothing forced about the militiaman’s attitude. His determined expression captures his alleged willingness to defend the fatherland, while his family voluntarily makes their sacrifice, even as they understand the terrible consequences war might bring. Although the militiaman’s mother hides her face in tears, his wife clasps his hand and does not cry or look away (nor do the children). The centrality of the wife in the picture suggests to me the degree to which Krafft wished to depict the universality of a cause that demanded sacrifice of Austria’s women as well as of its men.


The deteriorating situation throughout 1619 at least encouraged Ferdinand’s potential supporters to accept his appeals as serious. The Habsburg monarchy was at breaking point. Ferdinand found himself with 20 million florins of debts on his accession. Crown revenue was only 2.4 million, but much of this was now controlled by the rebel Estates whose taxes, worth 3 million fl. annually, he was also denied. The imperial army consumed 5 million fl. in pay, provisions and munitions in the ten months to June 1619, whereas revenue, forced loans and Spanish and papal subsidies provided just 3 million. When pay arrears and other liabilities were included, the military deficit reached 4.3 million fl., in addition to the monarchy’s existing debt.

Ferdinand might struggle on with further expedients, while the Poles might yet eliminate Bethlen, but he could never defeat all his opponents without substantial additional help. From his imperial coronation he launched a concerted effort to secure this. Spain, France and the papacy were approached for cash and diplomatic assistance in deterring the Protestant Union from intervening, while Bavaria and Saxony were asked to provide direct military support.


Duke Maximilian saw his chance to achieve his long-cherished ambitions. He ignored Habsburg appeals for help throughout 1618 while quietly preparing to re-establish the Liga they had forced him to disband. Frightened by the Bohemian crisis, the former members welcomed the chance to strengthen their security. Maximilian was careful not to show his hand, allowing Mainz to take the lead in reviving the organization that was essentially active again from August 1619. Ferdinand’s visit to Munich in October on his way back from Frankfurt and his election enabled Maximilian to move to stage two, seeking not merely confirmation for the Liga but the promise of concessions at the Palatinate’s expense. The growing crisis at Vienna forced Ferdinand to accept ‘the Bavarian devil to drive out the Bohemian beelzebub’. In the Treaty of Munich of 8 October 1619, Ferdinand recognized the Liga and requested its assistance, thereby establishing the legal basis for all future Bavarian action. As the emperor’s auxiliary assisting to restore the imperial public peace, Maximilian was entitled to proper compensation. Though the entire Liga would assist, only Bavaria’s expenses were covered, in a separate arrangement that promised the duchy part of Austria until Ferdinand could repay Maximilian.

The Liga met in Würzburg in December, its first congress since 1613, and agreed to raise an army of 25,000 funded by members’ contributions. The previous organization was re-established, with south German and Rhenish Directories under Bavaria and Mainz respectively. Membership was exclusively Catholic and predominantly ecclesiastical, as the smaller imperial counties and cities abstained or only participated intermittently. Salzburg learned from Raitenau’s fate in 1611 and cooperated, but still refused formal membership. Maximilian secured exclusive direction of the Liga’s military affairs, underpinned by his efficient bureaucracy and Jean Tserclaes Tilly as an experienced field commander. Mainz declined to replace Bavaria when Maximilian’s term of office expired at the end of 1621, leaving the duke in charge of the general direction of the Liga throughout its remaining existence. Ferdinand of Cologne, Maximilian’s brother, refused to join, but nonetheless cooperated with the Liga and became the real head of the Rhenish members.

For Maximilian, war was a demonstration of power (potestas), not violence (violentia). He had himself painted as a warrior prince in full armour, but had little interest in personal glory. He dutifully accompanied his army in 1620, but left actual command to Tilly in whom he had complete trust. Operations were to be the legally sanctioned, controlled application of force for precise objectives. He refused to move until the emperor took the necessary steps to sanction Bavarian intervention and provide cast-iron guarantees that Maximilian would receive his reward. Ferdinand had already annulled Frederick’s election as Bohemian king on 19 January 1620. At Maximilian’s insistence, he issued an ultimatum to surrender the crown by 1 June or face the imperial ban. This would make Frederick an outlaw, entitling the emperor to confiscate his possessions and reassign them to whoever he chose. Five days after the deadline expired, Ferdinand authorized Maximilian to intervene in Bohemia, which he followed by a similar mandate on 23 July against the Upper Austrian rebels.

With typical caution, Maximilian sought additional confirmation from Spain and the papacy. Frederick’s acceptance of the Bohemian crown finally convinced the pontiff that the situation was serious and he doubled his existing subsidy to the emperor. In all, Pope Paul V sent 380,000 florins between 1618 and 1621, equivalent to a mere single month’s pay for the imperial army. He proved more generous towards Maximilian, because the Liga’s existence allowed him to prove his Catholic credentials without directly assisting the Habsburgs. However, he refrained from digging into his own pockets, imposing instead a special levy on the German and Italian clergy that raised 1.24 million fl. across 1620–4. Contributions from the Liga’s other members in the same period totalled 4.83 million, while Paul spent more than six times as much on building projects and nepotism. For him, this clearly was not a religious war.

The approach to Spain had rather more significant consequences. Maximilian generally opposed Spanish involvement, but needed it now. He could not move against the Austrian and Bohemian Confederates without exposing the Liga territories to potential reprisals from the Protestant Union forces. Spanish intervention on the Rhine would pin these down and free the Liga army under Tilly to turn eastwards. Spain had been slow to respond to the situation after Emperor Matthias’s death because this coincided with a long-planned state visit to Portugal intended to bolster the monarchy. Absent since April 1619, Philip III fell ill on his return in September and never fully recovered. Many still opposed intervention in Germany, but Frederick’s acceptance of the Bohemian crown was considered such an affront to the Casa d’Austria that it could not go unpunished.

The complex nature of Spanish involvement takes some unravelling. Just over 2 million florins were sent in 1619–21 to subsidize the maintenance of the imperial army and help pay the Polish Cossacks. Imperial officers were allowed to recruit new units in Spanish possessions, chiefly 6,000 Walloons raised after January 1619. Some additional help came from Spain’s Italian allies, notably the grand duke of Tuscany who financed Dampierre’s regiment of Germans and Walloons whose arrival in the Hofburg so startled the Lower Austrians. Other units were sent directly under Spanish command and pay, though many of these were newly recruited since the monarchy had only about 58,000 soldiers at this point. Like Bavaria, Spain presented its involvement as upholding the imperial constitution. The first column of 6,000 foot and 1,000 horse under Marradas and Johann VIII von Nassau marched from the Netherlands as ‘Burgundian Kreis troops’, ostensibly fulfilling the region’s obligations under the public peace legislation. They deliberately avoided Union territories as they crossed from Alsace to Passau and thence to join Bucquoy in Upper Austria in July 1619. A second column of 7,000 Italians crossed the St Gotthard pass and moved down the Etsch valley to reach Innsbruck on 15 November 1619. Four thousand continued down the Rhine to bring the Army of Flanders back up to strength, leaving only 3,000 under Verdugo and Spinelli to march north over the Golden Track into Bohemia in January. A third column of 9,000 Spanish and Italians marched north from Italy later in 1620, but were sent along the Chérzery valley to reinforce the Army of Flanders. This was the last use of the western stretch of the Spanish Road that had become too exposed through Savoy’s defection to France. It was part of a wider strategy to rebuild Spain’s offensive capacity as the Twelve Year Truce with the Dutch neared its end, and by June 1620 the Army of Flanders mustered 44,200 foot and 7,000 horse.

The Final Pieces

Failure of Saxon mediation forced Johann Georg to change tack and join Ferdinand in the hope his participation would keep the crisis contained to Bohemia. He used his influence in the Upper and Lower Saxon Kreise to frustrate efforts by Union activists to recruit troops, though he was unable to prevent his Ernestine relations in Thuringia from sending several units to Bohemia. The elector of Mainz and Maximilian refused to drop demands that the Protestants return church land taken since 1552, but they did compromise with Saxony and Hessen-Darmstadt at a meeting in Mühlhausen in March 1620. Johann Georg accepted Bavaria’s interpretation that Frederick had broken the public peace. In return, Bavaria and Mainz promised not to use force to recover the former bishoprics, provided their current Lutheran administrators remained loyal to the emperor.

Maximilian pressed Ferdinand to complete the process and place Frederick under the imperial ban in March, but backed away once he realized this was blatantly exposing his ambitions to supplant his cousin as elector. It was agreed to wait until a clear victory established a more suitable opportunity. Ferdinand also addressed Johann Georg’s concerns over the legitimacy of Saxon intervention by specifically commissioning him in April 1620 to restore order in Lusatia. The commission was revised in June at his request to include special safeguards for the Lutheran inhabitants, while a month later Ferdinand agreed Saxony could retain both parts of Lusatia until he could refund its expenses.

Neutralization of the Union removed the final obstacle to action. Another Union congress in June 1619 had authorized the mobilization of 11,000 men for home defence. The activists agreed privately to raise more but had still only mustered 13,000 under the margrave of Ansbach at Ulm in May 1620, having failed to intercept the Spanish reinforcements. They had been completely out-recruited by the Liga, now massing 30,000 troops opposite them at Lauingen and Günzburg. Nonetheless, Maximilian wanted to be sure the Union would not attack once Tilly headed east into Bohemia. Talks opened on 18 June with the intention of avoiding violence altogether in Germany, and France finally intervened as Louis XIII sent the duc d’Angoulême to mediate. Ferdinand had sought French support, claiming that, like the Huguenots, the Bohemians represented a religious and political threat to Catholic monarchy; however, Louis rejected the call for solidarity in favour of asserting what he regarded as his country’s proper role as European arbiter. With Angoulême’s assistance, the Liga and Union agreed a truce on 3 July, promising not to fight each other in Germany but leaving Maximilian free to intervene in Bohemia, while the Union activists could oppose Spain if they wished. Angoulême hoped to extend this into a general peace, but Ferdinand seized the opportunity to attack.


The Habsburg Offensive

Ferdinand’s offensive involved six separate armies. Bucquoy left Dampierre to hold Vienna with over 5,000 men against Bethlen, and advanced from Krems with 21,500 to eject Anhalt from his foothold in Lower Austria. Maximilian placed 8,600 men to guard his frontier with the Upper Palatinate, and accompanied the main army of 21,400 drawn from the troops that had blocked the Unionists at Ulm to enter Upper Austria on 24 July. Spain joined in by invading the Lower Palatinate, leaving Johann Georg no choice but to start operations against Lusatia in September. These moves were the necessary preparatory steps to the final assault on Bohemia itself.

The Confederates’ lacklustre campaign during the first half of 1620 disillusioned the Lower Austrians whose homes were being wrecked in the fighting. Ferdinand split the opposition by giving the verbal assurance he would respect the religious privileges of individual nobles provided they paid homage: 86 Lutheran lords and knights joined 81 Catholics and the representatives of 18 crown towns in accepting Ferdinand as the legitimate ruler of Lower Austria on 13 July. The remaining 62 Protestant nobles fled to Retz on the Moravian frontier from where they issued a declaration of defiance. The peasant militias offered only minimal resistance in the Upper Austrian mountains as the Bavarians poured in, capturing Linz on 3 August. Tschernembl and the radicals fled, leaving the moderates to surrender on 20 August, placing their 3,500 regular troops at the Liga’s disposal. Ferdinand now declared 33 of the Retz signatories outlaws. A couple of Austrian regiments remained with Anhalt’s army, but effectively both provinces had been lost to the Confederate cause. Adam von Herberstorff was left to hold Upper Austria with 5,000 men, while Maximilian and Tilly headed east along the Austrian–Bohemian frontier to join Bucquoy. Despite the Protestant majority among their inhabitants, both Austrian provinces had been recovered permanently for the Catholic Habsburgs without a single battle.

The situation grew even more serious for Frederick along the Rhine where his supporters were collecting to oppose Spain. After leaving Ulm, Ansbach marched north-west to Oppenheim, between Mainz and Worms, to cover the right half of the Lower Palatinate that protruded west of the Rhine. Together with 5,700 local militia, he now mustered 21,800 troops, and was joined by a further 2,000 English volunteers under Sir Horace de Vere in October, convoyed south by 2,000 Dutch cavalry under Prince Frederick Henry, Maurice’s younger brother. Sir Horace was one of the ‘Fighting Veres’ family with long experience of the Dutch wars, including the siege of Jülich. His regiment was the second British contingent, arriving five months after Grey’s regiment. Despite his numerical superiority, Ansbach was reluctant to fight, pinning his hopes of British mediation.

Luis de Velasco and 18,000 men were concentrated in Flanders to deter the Dutch, while Spinola left Brussels on 18 August with another 19,000, heading east through the electorate of Trier. Having secured Koblenz, Spinola rapidly overran Palatine territory west of the Rhine, taking Kreuznach and Alzey. Apart from brief skirmishes between the cavalry, Ansbach avoided contact. Nonetheless, Spinola remained concerned at the possibility of more substantial Dutch intervention with only a few months remaining until the end of the Truce, while his Italians refused to undertake another siege given the lateness of the season and the worsening weather. Ansbach retained the principal fortresses of Oppenheim, Heidelberg, Mannheim and Frankenthal as both sides retired into winter quarters in December. The Dutch went home, disgusted with the lacklustre Union leadership.

These operations dispelled Johann Georg’s hopes of a mediated settlement and he began his own advance, despite the obvious lack of enthusiasm among his officers. Count Wolfgang von Mansfeld, a distant relation of Frederick’s general, concentrated 8,300 soldiers and 3,000 militia at Dresden, prompting the Bohemians to halt grain sales to Saxony. Having summoned the Lusatian Estates to meet him, Johann Georg finally invaded on 3 September 1620, overrunning the western half of the two provinces. The margrave of Jägerndorf still held the east and had put 2,000 men into Bautzen. A Saxon defeat would destroy Johann Georg’s remaining credit in Protestant Germany and give the Bohemians a much needed boost. Despite obstruction from his subordinates, Wolfgang Mansfeld pressed on, forcing Bautzen to surrender on 5 October after a short bombardment that destroyed most of the town. Most of the Lusatian nobles and towns now accepted the Saxon guarantee for their privileges in return for renouncing the Confederation, but Jägerndorf still held out in Görlitz in the south-eastern corner of the province and it was now too late in the season to begin operations against Silesia further east.

The main Confederate army had been paralysed by three pay mutinies from the end of June, which finally ended on 2 August when the government extorted more money from the Prague Jews. This denied Anhalt the last opportunity to crush Bucquoy before Maximilian joined him. Abandoning his positions in Lower Austria, he retreated north into Moravia, thinking his opponents were heading in that direction. This had been Bucquoy’s intention but Ferdinand overruled his own general, placing him under the command of Maximilian who followed Tilly’s advice to march directly on Prague. Maximilian had received 5,000 additional Liga troops, but his army already had 500 sick before it left Bavaria and was now gripped by ‘Hungarian fever’, a form of typhus or cholera depending on the contemporary diagnosis, that would kill 12,000 Catholic troops before the year was out.

The epidemic is an indication that the full horrors of war were present from the outset, and were not a product of escalating barbarity. The irregular forces on both sides were already infamous for their cruelty. The first group of Cossacks crossing Moravia in January 1620 had disrupted a wedding, kidnapping the bride after murdering the groom. Ferdinand informed the Saxon elector after the siege of Vienna that the Hungarians had devastated, plundered and burned everything where they had stayed, and (it is said), stripped the people to their last threads, ruined, cut them down and dragged a large number of them as prisoners, subjected them to unheard of torture to find money and property, dragged away numerous lads of twelve to sixteen years old, and so ill-treated pregnant women and others, that many of them were found dead everywhere on the roads. They pulled ropes around the men’s necks so tight that their eyes popped out of their heads.

Ferdinand concluded with a remark that became the standard refrain throughout the war: ‘Indeed, the enemy has behaved so terribly everywhere, that one can almost not remember whether such tyranny was ever heard of from the Turks.’

The Liga troops behaved terribly during their invasion of Upper Austria, despite being well-supplied. The violence may partly have been revenge for the peasant resistance along the frontier, but there was already disorder on the march through Bavaria and the targets were indiscriminate, the men plundering Catholic monasteries and convents as well as Protestant homes. Catholic diarists depict such breaches of discipline as divine punishment for the heretical rebels, and clearly many senior figures used this as an excuse, ignoring the duke’s efforts to maintain order, like his courtiers who helped ransack Schloss Greilenstein in Lower Austria. Religious hatred was fanned by a large crowd of priests accompanying the combined imperial-Bavarian army, including the superior general of the barefoot Carmelite order, Domenico à Jesu Maria. Born Domingo Ruzzola in Aragon, he already had a reputation for prophesy and had won Maximilian’s confidence after curing an eye infection and other ‘miraculous’ acts.

Realizing his mistake, Anhalt hurried west to block the invasion from a position at Tabor as the imperial-Bavarian army reached Budweis. Thurn was still sulking at being replaced by Anhalt, while Count Mansfeld resented Hohenlohe’s promotion to field marshal and refused to cooperate, marching south-west in a futile attempt to distract Maximilian by threatening Bavaria. The duke bypassed Tabor to the west, storming Prachatice on 27 September, and moving through Pisek to reach Pilsen on 5 October. Mansfeld raced back, arriving just in time, while Anhalt followed to Rokycany a short distance to the east. Mansfeld opened the first of what would prove an almost continuous series of secret talks over possible defection. Maximilian and Bucquoy thought it was a ploy to gain time – supplies were running short and the duke was allegedly reduced to eating black bread while Tilly snatched an apple from a passing Dominican friar. It grew so cold that some soldiers froze to death at night.

Determined to maintain momentum, Tilly had no intention of being stuck outside Pilsen all winter and, backed by Maximilian, overruled Bucquoy to march north towards Prague. Marradas was left to blockade Pilsen, while Wallenstein was sent with a small imperial detachment into north-west Bohemia to establish contact with the Saxons still beyond the mountains. Anhalt dashed north to block the way to Prague, to an important road junction at Rakovnic. Possibly influenced by Maximilian’s example, Frederick now joined his troops, confirming Anhalt’s authority and temporarily boosting morale. The soldiers agreed to suspend another pay protest and dig into a wooded ridge behind a marsh. Maximilian was stuck in front of this position from 27 October. Bucquoy was badly injured in a skirmish on 3 November, but a supply train arrived the following day, reviving morale. Maximilian and Tilly knew they had only a short time to force a battle before winter suspended operations and gave Frederick a reprieve. Covered by morning mist and some noisy musketeers left to distract the Confederates, the army slipped round the ridge on 5 November and raced towards Prague. Anhalt only realized the danger later that evening, but force-marched his men to overtake his opponents and reach the White Mountain, about 8km west of the city, at midnight on 7 November.