The Battle of Zorndorf III

Clutching the colors of the 46th Infantry Regiment, Frederick rallies his men in a last-ditch stand on the Prussian left. Seydlitz’s cavalry would save the day.

The Russian right was no longer capable of organized resistance, but an incredibly bloody and desperate struggle was kept up there until about 1300 hours when the Prussians finally became exhausted. Kanitz’ attack had smashed through three solid lines of Fermor’s deep front and the momentum there was definitely in Prussian hands. Seydlitz drew back his cavalry to reform them in case of additional need. The Russian line there having been driven in, the center and left were reformed, taking up a second line in front and to side of the Galgen Grund. Browne’s observation corps, the largest remaining intact Russian formation, swung itself in to become the new Russian left, while the rest of the survivors of the morning debâcle became the new Russian right wing. What part Fermor had to play in any of these proceedings is unclear, before his wound. Russian generals would later complain of the lack of orders they received during the battle from their “commander.” They could not move well or dexterously in their thickly crowded formations. But neither could their foes of the Prussian left, who had been heavily involved in the battle and were tiring by then. Frederick, seeing Kanitz’s men faltering, ordered the right wing, which was still relatively fresh, into action.

Earlier the king had ridden across to the latter command to see why Dohna was making no attempt to aid Kanitz, even when it became apparent he was in dire need of reinforcements. In point of fact, the right had been withdrawing slowly further and further from the scene of action, just when its support was most needed. Responding to orders, Dohna shoved his men into an assault on the southern side of the great enemy center square. The latter was to use his anchor on the Langen-Grund to prop up his men, while units of Schorlemer’s and Marschall’s cavalry would keep the enemy horse at bay. In the meanwhile, the remaining units of the Prussian center and right, those formations still capable of fighting, were shifted eastwards to the ground in front of the Russian center. By mid-afternoon, Frederick’s main attack pressure was facing north. The bluecoats deployed into battle lines again, while the big 40-gun battery was moved—about 1300 hours—from the Zaberngrund to the Galgen Grund, under the escort of the 40th Infantry. It then opened a steady and deliberate fire against the massed Russian army. About 1330 hours, the firing again became general, as the reformed Prussian infantry, this time from the left, prepared to advance against the new enemy position.

General Browne’s men were taking a horrific punishment from the Prussian battery. For two full hours, the shelling and sparring continued. Then, about 1500 hours, the Russians struck. Browne’s sole aim was to silence that infernal battery. His Horvat Hussars galloped over the intervening country and quickly took the Prussian guns, and simultaneously nabbed Kreutz’s infantry battalion. This was the signal for a general attack by the whole of Demikow’s cavalry. Their stroke was initially successful, but the iron discipline of the bluecoats as their infantry formed to repulse the intruders was in the end decisive—1515 hours. Then Schorlemer’s surging horsemen rode them down and drove the Russian riders into the near-by Zicher Woods for shelter.

This effort raised manifold clouds of smoke. The Prussians of Manteuffel’s still unsteady command momentarily panicked in the mistaken belief the intruders were enemy cavalry. They insensibly tended towards Wilkersdorf before the error could be discovered. Demikow’s effort had one other result. Dohna’s men were still cognizant of the Russian horse, but the retreat of the Horvat Hussars allowed the freed battery to resume pounding Browne’s men. Browne had been reinforced by four battalions from the Russian Major-General Manteuffel. Browne launched a renewed counterattack, at about the same time as Demikow’s effort. This was one determined stroke.

Just past the batteries (which were by then blasting away far out in front of the main army) the Russian cavalry surged forward to come to grips with Frederick’s foot soldiers out beyond the confines of their lines. Simultaneously or nearly so, the long lines of Russian infantry ran out to support their comrades on horseback. The main rush of Fermor’s troops was straight into the battalions in position at the Prussian center, rather than against the flank forces, which were nevertheless driven in against the center. The Russians came on like men possessed, capturing another battery and an entire Prussian battalion. So from about 1430 hours, the battle here largely degenerated into a confused slaughter.

The Prussian center, hit by the enemy in this fierce assault, rolled back, the units showing an unsteadiness unusual for Prussian troops. They fell back forthwith and not until they reached Wilkersdorf, more than a mile from the scene, were they finally rallied by their officers. Their brethren on the flanks, fortunately for the Prussian cause, were better able to withstand the enemy’s stroke. For the most part, the latter managed to hold their ground against Fermor’s strong counterattack. Seydlitz, in the midst of this mess, came on once more (about 1530 hours): he had rested and reassembled his troopers, bringing up the reserves (giving him a grand total of 61 squadrons ready for orders), now once again the indomitable cavalry leader prepared again to take matters to his own. Seydlitz swept forward into the milling Russian mass from front and rear, rode down the enemy and drove them back upon the Mutzel and Quartzchen beyond.

Now, once again, Dohna was making his presence felt. His troops, plus the survivors of Kanitz, some 900 strong, reinvigorated by the sight of Seydlitz’s magnificent cavalry assault, surged forward (about 1530 hours) with bayonets at the ready into the tumbling, utterly decimated enemy lines. But Dohna’s first stroke hit the packed Russian line a glancing blow, and his men momentarily wavered. This was a period of vulnerability. Fortunately, Schorlemer’s horsemen were able to keep rank for the more than 3/4 of an hour necessary to recover. Precious time to get matters straight. Prussian guns, brought forward on the run, opened a savage fire and, at approximately 1635 hours, the bluecoats went back to the attack. This stroke, better supported and prepared, proved the finish. Browne’s men held rank for a time, and then lost all cohesion. By 1715 hours, the Russian guns were silenced as they were overrun, their operators killed or captured in the process. Now was the time Dohna looked for, the Prussian cavalry “should” have launched a decisive attack. But Seydlitz’s men were done in, and Schorlemer’s horse was shaken by its previous efforts. No cavalry stroke came. The situation was still bad enough for the Russians. Georg Browne fell severely wounded in this final showdown; he and “Colonel Soltikow [Soltikov] were taken prisoners by some hussars.”

The Russians were slaughtered like pigs in a pen, but they did not run. They stood to their duty, and were often cut down where they were. By a little past 1600 hours, organized resistance virtually ceased, as the slow destruction of the Russian army started. I will spare the reader the details; suffice it to say that more blood was spilled that day than on any European battlefield in half a century. At Zorndorf, the Prussians discovered the Russian pay chest, valued by Lloyd at £160,000 in 1780 money.

After the battle, and with a misguided sense of justice, St. Petersburg blamed their own army for the sacking of the pay chest, when this nefarious deed was committed by Prussian cavalry alone. The details of this whole business are very disturbing. Russian soldiers were even individually frisked for the missing coins, and a communiqué from home accused the whole army of drinking on the job, even of “wanton cowardice” in the face of the dreaded Prussian king and his legions.

At the event, the Russians could not flee. Indeed, how could they have gotten away? Many of them “attempted” to cross the flowing waters of the Mutzel, by now running red with blood, but could not make it and were swallowed, man and beast alike, in the oozy marshes near the river. Meanwhile, the Prussians were drawing back again and again to rest, while their foes, packed often like sardines in a can, had not even the luxury of freeness of movement. A lone body of Fermor’s men, gathered up from among the remnants of the units, were put under Demikow. This force managed to move back into the hollows where their army had stood. Fermor, apparently patched up, was back by then. He assembled what formations could still offer an organized front—on the Galgen Grund. These hardy units included the famous Smolensk and Kazan Musketeers. There, surrounded by a dreadful number of dead and wounded countrymen and Prussians, Demikow made preparations to defend the withdrawal of the army, as soon as it was possible. He reached his destination just as dusk was falling, the main knoll now the key to the battlefield. Nearby, the broken remains of the badly used Russian formations could offer little tangible support to Demikow.

As for the Cossacks, organized they could have proven invaluable at this stage of the battle. Instead, they were busy rummaging through the paraphernalia they found on the battlefield, from both friend and foe. Lost in the joy of plunder, the Cossacks were useless for salvaging the lost battle.

Frederick, noticing the small organized enemy force forming up in its hollow just when Russian resistance was supposed to be largely at an end, instantly—about 1900 hours—ordered Forcade with the 23rd Infantry, which had performed commendably during the battle, to march to attack Demikow’s force from the front. General Samuel Carl von Rautter’s 4th Infantry and the rest of the Prussian center (shaken though it was), was to move round and encircle the flanks. The Russians with Demikow responded to the Prussian advance with some artillery shelling, which threw panic into Rautter’s men, who flew wildly to the rear and were not rallied again that day. In fairness, it must be admitted the 4th Infantry suffered heavily at Zorndorf. The tally was 28 killed, 206 wounded, and 176 “missing or captured.” The 11th Infantry of Lt.-Gen. Below was another of those battered units. Its tally at Zorndorf was 707 men and 19 officers. Forcade, from the distance, opened up with his guns in reply (perhaps it had been one of his salvoes that had panicked Rautter’s troops in the first place), but did not attack, as he now had no support. The enemy replied with their guns, but Demikow did not withdraw.

Forcade kept his cool; he ordered his troops to deploy while the gunners kept up the involved work of hammering the Russian lines. However, there was to be no further developing of the attack, as the king soon sent a courier to Forcade to leave Demikow alone. The Prussians withdrew towards the main army. For the shameful conduct of his men, Rautter was relieved of his command after the battle and replaced by General Georg Friedrich von Kleist. The main mass of the Russians fell back but slowly, Fermor finally regained control of his army, but far too late. He could now do nothing to reform it and even some of the battlefield was fully in the hands of the Prussians. Frederick’s men dealt with the roving bands of the Cossacks in a heartless—but effective—way, getting in a bit of revenge for the atrocities of the Russians. In one incident, the hussars surrounded one barn near Zichar and burned it down, killing 420 Cossacks that were trapped inside. Archenholtz mentions the deed, and even says the number “was near a thousand.”

In the meantime, the coming of night and the end of the battle (which was effectively over by about 1700 hours) brought about preparations for encampment. Frederick ordered his men to pitch their tents and put into bivouac for the night in two lines of rank. This was north to south, with his tent placed in the first row, while guards were posted and parties pushed out to probe the woods and scout out Fermor’s new position, now beyond the roads off in the distance. The sheer exhaustion of the Prussians had allowed Fermor to disengage his army from the battle. The latter, during the course of the night of August 25–26, gradually reassembled his army in some order. The men, now ranked in a loose marching order, then moved towards the southwest far to the west of the Zaberngrund into the Drewitz Heath (still on that side of the Oder); there, hidden among the dense patches of forests, which offered cover from the preying eyes of the enemy’s hussars and providing protection from a surprise Prussian attack, Fermor’s thoroughly worn out troops finally found time for sleep.

Within the gloomy, dejected atmosphere of defeat prevailing in the Russian camp that night, there were fewer than 29,000 fit men after the bloody battle. These men were scattered around the countryside in the thick woods of the region. This was not exactly the way Fermor anticipated his invasion of Brandenburg would turn out. His men had been weakened by the many hours of heavy fighting, some units had been almost totally wiped out, others were scattered and often their very own officers, if they were still in a position to care, did not know where they were. Frederick, who had brought a somewhat smaller force to the battle, had about 18,000 fit men in the ranks that night.

He had attacked, and with great effort, overcome the very formidable Russian army, but he had had to pay a big price for that “privilege.” Reports that the enemy had marched off were received throughout the night by the Prussians. They, too, however, were waiting for the dawn. General Peter Ivanovitch Panin was bold enough to say, although the Russian array had indeed retained largely the field of battle, “it was either dead, wounded or drunk.”

Early the following morning, August 26, Fermor rose from his encampment and marched back beyond the Zaberngrund, where he halted and formed his men into line-of-battle. The Russian commander sent a request to the Prussian commander opposite to him (Dohna) for a three-day truce. He wanted to utilize the time to bury the dead and help the wounded. Among the latter was General Browne, who was in desperate need of medical attention. But Dohna rejected the request on the premise that it was customary in military history for the victor of a battle to ask for a truce and he certainly did not want to give Fermor the impression Zorndorf was a Russian victory.

Dohna was quick to mention the misdeeds committed against innocents. Nevertheless, he did acknowledge Browne’s need for assistance and offered an accommodation. It was all academic, though, for before a reply could be definitely received (raising the possibility this was a mere ruse), Fermor drew out his front with his army facing the battlefield to the east. Unlimbering his guns, the Russian commander commenced a cannonade across the field upon the Prussians. The range was too great to accomplish anything direct except to show the foe the Russian army still had fight left in it. As proof, the king rode out early that morning to scout Fermor’s latest movements. The trip was uneventful until he reached the village of Zorndorf. Then an enemy of unknown strength fired at him, nearly taking out Frederick. Both sides opened up with their guns, possibly leading to the renewal of the fighting.

The Prussian response was swift, the king’s men drew out in front of their bivouac and forming into battle order replied with their big guns, giving an appropriate answer. Men on both sides urged attack on their leaders, but exhaustion from the heavy fighting of the previous day as well as a critical shortage of ammunition stifled any chance of attack by either side. At about 1130 hours, the Prussians, seeing nothing coming from Fermor’s quarter, marched back to their tents, leaving the artillery to keep up the exchange with the enemy.

Late the previous night, Prussian hussars had ridden straight into Fermor’s heavy baggage train at Klein-Kammin. The hussars took their time and plundered the train. Now, in the daylight, with Frederick at Zorndorf and thus between Fermor and his train, it would have been advisable for the king to march and stomp this train before Fermor could lift a finger to rescue it. This would have been decisive, for with his baggage gone, the Russian commander would have been in a big hurry to return to Poland. Inexplicably, nothing of the kind was forthcoming. Perhaps Frederick did not consider it important enough. He may have felt that Fermor was already beaten, so the thing was not worth the effort. Whatever the cause, the Russian baggage was left without further disturbance.

Back at the field, the Russian bombardment gradually calmed down, and darkness fell upon the tortured field. About 2300 hours, the Russian army started to move through the woods leading to Tamsel and the road to Klein-Kammin. As he drew away, Fermor ordered a renewed shelling laid down to conceal his retreat. One of these latter rounds blew up a carriage parked outside the king’s tent. The smoke of the cannonading combined with a thick fog arising from the Oder served to conceal the Russian withdrawal.

The Prussians were unaware of what was happening until the enemy had already gotten clean away to Klein-Kammin and were preparing for breakfast. Finally Frederick’s reconnaissance parties detected the Russian maneuver, and he at once set off in pursuit. When the king’s men reached the vicinity of the enemy’s encampment, Fermor was already secure behind his redoubts and had his artillery train parked with unlit fuses set. Frederick chose not to attack the Russian position, which was probably a very wise move, and settled for a peaceful withdrawal back to his own camp. So confident was Fermor in the capabilities of his post that, beaten at Zorndorf though he may have been, it was not until August 31 that he abandoned Klein-Kammin and started back towards Landsberg.

Frederick, one among many on the Prussian side, was glad to see the Russians go, and did not consider a long-range pursuit using the main Prussian army. The Russians had proven themselves to be worthy opponents. Worthy opponents indeed. In fact, “[The Russians] sustained a slaughter that would have confounded and dispersed the compleatest [sic] veterans.” Three days after Fermor’s final retreat (September 2) the Prussian king gathered his troops and marched towards Saxony to see to the situation in that province. He did see good to detach Dohna with a large detachment—21 battalions and 35 squadrons, some 17,000 men—to go into Fermor’s rear and help see him go. Dohna at once took up his job.

Thus closed the story of the Battle of Zorndorf, the hardest fought battle of the Seven Years’ War, and one of the worst of the entire eighteenth century. The casualties reflected that singular fact: Fermor lost 7,990 killed/13,539 wounded and missing; a total of 21,529, nearly half of the army he had dragged to Zorndorf. The beaten side also lost 103 guns and 27 standards, meaningless compared to the human suffering. Frederick’s army suffered as well, although not as severely. Prussian losses were 3,680 killed, above a thousand men missing from the ranks (presumed dead /deserted/captured); along with the wounded, approximately 11,390 men from all causes. Thus nearly four in ten of the Prussians present at Zorndorf were casualties.

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.



16–18 October 1813


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.


Battle of Leipzig, October 16 actions.


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.


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.


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.

Action at Saalfeld, (10 October 1806)

The first major confrontation in the 1806 campaign between French and Prussian forces. Marshal Jean Lannes, faced by a smaller force under the command of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Hohenzollern, was given the task of taking Saalfeld. A combination of French tactical initiative and poor Prussian deployment led to the defeat of the Prussian force and to the death of Prince Louis.

Early in the Prussian campaign, Prince Louis commanded the advance guard of Frederick Louis, Prince Hohenlohe’s corps of the Prussian army and was given orders to hold Saalfeld. Lannes, conversely, had instructions to take Saalfeld, provided the enemy were discovered to be numerically inferior to his forces. Lannes duly sent out cavalry patrols to ascertain the strength of the enemy. Prince Louis had deployed his force in three lines, outside the town, but he had made little attempt to occupy the villages on his flanks. The ground was also broken up by a number of streams running in steep ravines down to the river Saale. The river itself was directly to the rear of the Prussian position. As Lannes advanced from the wooded hills to the south of Saalfeld, he was able to observe the entire enemy position. Initially he deployed in skirmish order the first of his troops to arrive on the battlefield, and they quickly advanced under the cover of the ravines. He also deployed a battalion composed entirely of the elite companies (grenadiers and voltigeurs) of his infantry to pin down the Prussians defending Saalfeld.

The French then seized the villages that flanked the Prussian line and began to issue an effective fire on the exposed lines of troops. This bombardment continued for about two hours. By now Lannes had received reinforcements and was determined to attack the Prussian right wing. Prince Louis, realizing that his line of communications was threatened, weakened his center in order to deploy troops onto a low ridge to the right of his main line, called the Sandberg. He then took the decision to launch an attack in the center against a screen of French skirmishers. The troops in the center were Saxons, and despite their bravery in attack they were repulsed by the skirmishers on their flanks and fresh French troops to their front. Having blunted the enemy advance, Lannes began an artillery bombardment before launching his own assault. French troops attacked the Sandberg, which allowed a combined infantry and cavalry assault to be delivered against the Prussian center. The four Saxon battalions there quickly broke.

In an attempt to stabilize the situation, Prince Louis led five squadrons of his own cavalry forward, in the course of which he was killed in single combat by a French sergeant of hussars. The Prussian force was now broken, and in the cavalry pursuit that followed nearly thirty guns were taken, together with 1,500 prisoners. The Prussian survivors were forced to rally 4 miles to the north of Saalfeld. The French victory began to dispel the myth of Prussian invincibility and provided a vital morale boost for the French army prior to the decisive battles to be fought at Jena and Auerstädt only days later.

Wargame: Preparation for Saalfeld 1806

Königgrätz: Battle of Eagles

The Prussian military system had been thoroughly reformed after Napoleon had crushed it at Jena in 1806. The crucial development was the growth of a Great General Staff, embodied in law in 1814. Bright officers were selected to what was effectively a military brotherhood, charged with continuous study of the art of war and the drawing up and review of plans. Essentially a managerial system, in the long run it proved brilliantly suited to control large complex armies. Because it was successful in the wars of 1866 and 1870–1 the General Staff developed enormous prestige and decisive influence in military affairs. General Staff officers formed specialised groups, such as that dealing with railways, and were skilful at spotting ways in which new technology could be adapted for military use. Ultimately every general in command of an army had a chief of staff who had a right of appeal if he did not like his superior’s plans. To prevent these officers losing touch with military reality they were rotated through regular periods of service in line regiments. The Prussian General Staff presided over an army of 300,000 raised by a highly selective form of conscription. These were backed up by 800,000 reserves, each of whom at the age of 32 passed into the militia or Landwehr which would only be called up in emergency. In 1859 Prussia had tried to move to support Austria against France, but mobilisation had been a fiasco. As a result the General Staff paid careful attention to the use of railways to get troops quickly to the front. At the same time reserve and regular battalions were firmly attached to local military districts so each got to know the other.

In 1866 the tensions between Prussia and Austria over the leadership of Germany led to war. Prussia had only half the population of its adversary and the Austrians had a long-service conscript army of 400,000 which, in theory, could strike first into enemy territory. But the Austrian army could not concentrate quickly because its units were used for internal security, scattered in such a way that the men were always strangers to the people whom they garrisoned. Prussia thus had time to summon its reserves and to take the initiative under Helmuth von Moltke. Moreover, the Austrian advantage in numbers was partially nullified because Prussia allied with Italy, forcing Austria to dispatch an army there. In Italy in 1859 Austrian forces had failed to implement firepower tactics, and had been overwhelmed by direct (and very costly) French attacks. They were now armed with a good muzzle-loading Lorenz rifle, but thought that they should hold their troops together in large units that were trained to deliver bayonet charges. Also, aware of the inadequacy of their cannon in Italy, the Austrians had bought excellent rifled breech-loading artillery.

Moltke sent three armies along five railways to attack Austria through Bohemia, with the intention of concentrating them against the enemy’s main force. In the event, two of these armies confronted the Austrians in their strong and partly fortified position at Königgrätz/Sadowa/ on 3 July 1866. Each side had about 220,000 men. Fighting was ferocious but the Prussians held on until their third army arrived to bring victory. Prussian infantry tactics were the revelation of Königgrätz. In 1846 the Prussian army had adopted a breech-loading rifle, the Dreyse needle-gun. This had a potential firing rate of about five shots per minute and it could be loaded and fired from the prone position. The Dreyse was scorned by other armies: it lacked range because the gas seal on the breech was inadequate and it was feared that such a high rate of fire would encourage soldiers to waste their ammunition before charging the enemy, so overburdening supply lines.

At Königgrätz the Austrian artillery did much damage, but the rapid fire of the Dreyse at close range cut down the Austrians whose forces were gathered in large close-order units highly vulnerable to this kind of firestorm. The British Colonel G.F.R. Henderson commented that the Prussians did not charge with the bayonet until the enemy had been destroyed by musketry: ‘The Germans relied on fire, and on fire alone, to beat down the enemy’s resistance: the final charge was a secondary consideration altogether.‘

Important as the Dreyse was, the real key to victory was tactical and organisational. Moltke, like Clausewitz, understood the fluidity of battle and the problem of control:

Diverse are the situations under which an officer has to act on the basis of his own view of the situation. It would be wrong if he had to wait for orders at times when no orders can be given. But most productive are his actions when he acts within the framework of his senior commander’s intent.

He developed what would later be called the doctrine of mission tactics (Auftragstaktik), under which subordinate officers, even down to platoon level, were instructed in the intentions of the overall commander, but left to find their own way of achieving this end. At Königgrätz the Prussians made their infantry firepower count by closing with the enemy in forest land where the strong Austrian artillery could not bear upon them. This enabled them to shoot into the packed Austrian ranks as their junior officers led them around the enemy flanks. Fire and movement was the solution to the conundrum so ably propounded by du Picq.

This was possible because junior officers in the Prussian army were thoroughly trained, and understood the need to accept responsibility for the progress of their soldiers, and staff officers rotated through the fighting units communicated what senior commanders wanted. In addition, at the core of the Prussian army was an excellent corps of long-term NCOs well able to support their officers. At Königgrätz the Austrians suffered 6,000 dead, over 8,000 wounded and about the same number missing, and conceded 22,000 prisoners. The Prussians lost 2,000 dead and 6,000 wounded. Austria made peace almost immediately and Prussia took over all the north German states, enormously enhancing her military capability. The obvious lesson of Königgrätz was firepower. The Austrian Field Marshal Hess articulated another very clearly: ‘Prussia has conclusively demonstrated that the strength of an armed force derives from its readiness. Wars now happen so quickly that what is not ready at the outset will not be made ready in time … and a ready army is twice as powerful as a half-ready one.‘ Strike first would become an article of faith amongst the general staffs of Europe in the years down to 1914.

After Königgrätz

The victory of Sadowa made General von Moltke a celebrity, though an unlikely one. Intellectual, thin, clean-shaven, crisp and dry in speech and writing, he had the air more of an ascetic than a warrior. Although a gifted translator, he was so taciturn that the joke went that he could be silent in seven different languages. In 1867 he accompanied the king to the Paris Exhibition, was presented with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, and had conversations with French marshals Niel and Canrobert. The social niceties over, he returned to his office in Berlin to devote his thought to the problems of waging war against France. As professional military men, both he and Niel privately believed that a war between France and the North German Confederation was inevitable. As Niel once put it, the two countries were not so much at peace as in a state of armistice.

It was Moltke’s job, as it was Niel’s, to ensure that his country was ready when the test came, and he went about his task diligently. As a conservative Prussian, he saw France as the principal source of the dangerous infections of democracy, radicalism and anarchy. As a German, he shared the nationalist belief that Germany could become secure only by neutralizing the French threat once and for all.

Following the war of 1866, the Prussian army became the core of the Army of the North German Confederation. Under War Minister Roon’s direction, integration of the contingents of the annexed states into the Prussian military system proceeded without delay. As Prussian units were regionally based, other states’ forces were readily accommodated into the order of battle while respecting state loyalties. Thus troops from Schleswig-Holstein became IX Corps of the Confederation Army, those of Hanover X Corps, those of Hesse, Nassau and Frankfurt XI Corps and the forces of Saxony XII Corps. In addition to the manpower provided by this regional expansion, the new army could call upon the enlarged pool of trained reserves produced by Roon’s earlier reforms. While maintaining an active army of 312,000 men in 1867, the Confederation could call on 500,000 more fully trained reservists on mobilization, plus the Landwehr for home defence. Once the southern states’ forces were included following the signing of military alliances, the numbers available swelled still further. By 1870 Germany would be able to mobilize over a million men.

The world had hardly seen such a large and well-disciplined force. Its backbone was the Prussian army, combat-hardened and commanded by experienced leaders, which had won the 1866 campaign. The post-war period allowed time to make promotions, weed out unsuitable commanders, and learn lessons of what could have been done better. The time was well used.

For instance, Prussian artillery had not performed as effectively as hoped against the Austrians for several reasons: faulty deployment, lack of coordination with other arms, technical failures, and want of tactical experience in handling a mixture of muzzle-loading smoothbores and the new breech-loading steel rifled cannons. All these deficiencies were addressed. At the king’s insistence, Krupp’s steel breech-loaders became standard, this time with Krupp’s own more reliable breech blocks. From 1867 General von Hindersin required gunners to train hard at a practice range in Berlin until firing rapidly and accurately at distant targets became second nature. Batteries also practised rushing forward together in mass, even ahead of their infantry, to bring enemy infantry quickly under converging fire. Time and again, this would prove a devastating tactic. If the Battle of Waterloo proverbially was won on the playing fields of Eton, it is small exaggeration to say that Sedan was won on Germany’s artillery ranges. The proficiency of German gunnery was to astound the French in 1870.

Less spectacular but equally important in conserving the lives of German troops were improvements to the medical service. The huge numbers of wounded after Königgrätz had swamped the medical services. Disease and infection had spread rapidly in overcrowded field hospitals. In 1867 the best civilian and military doctors were called to Berlin, and their recommendations for reform were implemented over the next two years. The medical service was put in charge of a Surgeon General and army doctors were given enhanced authority and rank. Sanitary arrangements for the health of troops in the field were revised and their enforcement became part of the regular duties of troop commanders, who were also issued with pamphlets explaining their responsibilities under the 1864 Geneva Convention. Troops were issued with individual field-dressings to staunch bleeding. Medical units were created and all their personnel issued with Red Cross armbands. The units included stretcher-bearers trained in first aid who would be responsible for evacuating the wounded from the front to field hospitals. From there evacuation to base hospitals would be by rail using specially fitted out hospital trains. Once back in Germany, where the new Red Cross movement was taken very seriously, the wounded would be cared for with the help of civilian doctors assisted by volunteer nurses recruited and trained under the active patronage of Queen Augusta. Yet there would be no conflict of authorities in wartime, nor any room for civilian volunteers wandering about the combat zone under their own devices. The work of civilian doctors and nurses would be directed by a central military authority in Berlin. Like the artillery, the medical service was transformed between 1866 and 1870 by a systematic approach to overcoming the problems experienced in modern war.

This approach was epitomized by the General Staff itself under Moltke’s direction. In 1866 the General Staff had established itself as the controlling brain of the army and had won confidence by its success. It recruited only the very best graduates from the Army War College, and had expanded to over one hundred officers, who were assigned either to specialist sections or to field commands. Its task was to ensure that the army in wartime operated like a well-oiled machine to a common plan. It worked effectively because it was well integrated with the command chain and avoided unnecessary centralization. Army corps were responsible for carrying out their part of the plan. The commander of every major unit had a chief of staff who was in effect Moltke’s representative. Many senior commanders had themselves done staff duties, just as General Staff officers were required periodically to move to operational duties so that they understood the problems of field commanders. Germany’s 15,000 officers were expected to show initiative in achieving objectives laid out in a general plan, and to understand their duty to support other units in pursuit of it. Moltke organized regular staff rides and war games to provide his officers with experience in solving command problems, together with related skills like map reading in the field. Intelligence on French forces and plans was continuously gathered and updated.

Jena-Auerstädt Campaign (1806) Part I

The stunning speed with which Napoleon overthrew the much-vaunted Prussian army in the fall of 1806 was dramatic, even by the standards this great captain set. Following on from his decisive defeat of the Austro-Russian army at Austerlitz in December 1805, Napoleon now established himself as master of central Europe with the Jena- Auerstädt campaign, ending attempts by Russia to play a significant role in European affairs for several years.

Since the Treaty of Basle of 1795, Prussia had maintained a policy of neutrality with France, but the incessant expansion of the Napoleonic Empire caused friction in government circles in Berlin and led to increasing calls for war with France. The war party in Prussia grew in influence.

When war broke out between Britain and France in 1803, General Adolphe Mortier occupied Hanover and disbanded its army. Prussia, supposedly the defender of north Germany, did not oppose this act. Effectively, the Treaty of Basle had ceased to have force. King Frederick William III did everything he could to avoid giving Napoleon cause for a confrontation and ignored suggestions that he should mobilize a corps of observation. When the War of the Third Coalition of Austria, Russia, Britain, and Sweden began in 1805, Napoleon sought to ensure Prussia’s neutrality by offering it Hanover. Frederick William was tempted but rejected this offer, as Napoleon made recognition of his conquests in Italy a prerequisite. Russia also put pressure on Frederick William, demanding the right of passage through Prussian territory for its forces. Caught in the middle, part of the Prussian army was mobilized that September.

Hardly had this mobilization begun when a French corps under Marshal Jean-Baptiste-Jules Bernadotte violated Prussian neutrality. This corps marched from Hanover southward through the Prussian enclave of Ansbach on 3 October, looting and pillaging as it went. This caused considerable outrage in Prussia and led to calls for war. The Russians were finally allowed passage through Prussian territory. Around 180,000 Prussian troops were placed on a war footing.

Napoleon needed to act quickly, and act quickly he did. His rapid maneuvers caused an Austrian force in southwest Germany under Feldmarschalleutnant Karl Mack Freiherr von Leiberich to capitulate at Ulm. While Prussia was trying to negotiate an armed peace, the French moved on Vienna. By the Treaty of Potsdam, concluded on 3 November, the Prussians agreed to enter the war with an army of 180,000 men, including contingents from Saxony and Hesse, should Napoleon refuse to make peace within four weeks of the departure from Berlin of the Prussian envoy Christian Graf von Haugwitz. Napoleon kept him at arm’s length until after his victory at Austerlitz on 2 December. The strategic situation now having been so fundamentally changed, Haugwitz agreed to an exchange of territory with Napoleon, ceding the Prussian possessions of Ansbach, Cleves (Kleve), and Neuchatel (a Prussian enclave in Switzerland) in return for Hanover. But peace had come at a price. The acquisition of Hanover led Prussia into a dispute with Britain, its only potential ally in Europe now. Prussia was now isolated.

Seeing his chance, Napoleon started to goad Prussia into war. Joachim Murat, a French marshal and the Grand Duke of Berg, seized Prussian territory at Verden and Essen, in western Germany. French troops massed in Berg, threatening Prussia. Napoleon had suggested that Prussia should form a North German Confederation, but he then prevented it from carrying this out. Having induced Frederick William to accept Hanover, Napoleon then commenced peace negotiations with Britain, offering to return this territory. He did so without Prussia’s knowledge, but the Prussian ambassador in Paris discovered it. This was the final provocation and the immediate cause for war.

Despite the gravity of the situation and the obvious, growing threat from France, Prussia entered this war ill prepared, and it lacked unity both in the government and in the higher command of the army. Frederick William did not have the strength of character or the authoritative demeanor necessary to impose his will on the arguing generals and politicians. The constant bickering hampered all operations. Nevertheless, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, irritated by the failure of his negotiations with Napoleon, promised to help, but his forces were far away. Britain too offered aid but moved slowly. Sweden declared its support but could do little. All that joined Prussia immediately was a contingent from Hesse and the reluctant Saxon army.

On 9 August 1806 the Prussian forces were ordered to mobilize. They entered this conflict with great expectations. Although the army had not been to war for ten years, its leaders had observed the development of warfare in the ensuing campaigns and had introduced a number of reforms. However, these attempts at modernization were underfunded and achieved less than was necessary. Napoleon’s army had been fully trained at the camp at Boulogne, and its veteran cadres were flushed with the great victories of 1805. Napoleon’s well-honed forces faced the army Europe respected above all others. The stage was set for the forthcoming War of the Fourth Coalition.

Strategically and politically, Prussia’s position was not straightforward. France was one of Europe’s most populous countries at this time, with a population of nearly 30 million. Prussia had the resources of only 8.7 million people, 2.5 million of whom were Poles, many of whom had only become Prussian subjects through the recent partitions of their country. Russia’s support was essential, but Russia was considered an unreliable ally. There were rumors it was discussing peace with Napoleon, but these rumors were quashed on 3 September when a report arrived in Paris that Alexander had rejected Napoleon’s overtures. As a result, Napoleon now refused to remove his troops from southern Germany and began his preparations for war.

The Prussians feared Napoleon would strike first. France’s occupation of the left bank of the Rhine left General Gebhard von Blücher’s men in Westphalia out on a limb. The fate of Mack’s Austrians the previous year must have been fresh in everybody’s minds. Plans were made to withdraw Blücher’s men over the river Elbe, but this would have left the Hessians in an exposed position and caused the Saxons consternation. Blücher also considered that his Westphalians would be reluctant to leave their home area, and he feared many would desert. Instead, the Prussians decided to concentrate to the fore, furthest away from the Russians. This would exacerbate the general strategic weakness of their position.

The Prussians raised a field army of seven corps of varying strengths: the Westphalian, the Hanoverian, the Magdeburg, the 1st Reserve, the Silesian, the West Prussian, and the Pomeranian. The fortresses of Magdeburg, Hamlin, and Nienburg were placed in a state of defense. To increase the mobility of the army, much of the heavier artillery pieces were left behind and the baggage train was reduced to a minimum. However, these measures were taken too far, for large parts of the army ran out of ammunition. The East Prussians were not mobilized, as they were needed to keep an eye on the Russians.

After some deliberations, the main part of the Prussian forces, around 65,000 men, were placed under the command of Charles, Duke of Brunswick, while Friedrich Ludwig Fürst Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen (known as Hohenlohe) was given command of a Prusso-Saxon corps of around 45,000 men. A corps of 34,000 men was left to cover Westphalia and Hesse, and 18,000 West Prussians were left in reserve. Brunswick and Hohenlohe were deployed facing Napoleon’s forces concentrating in southern Germany.

On 26 September 1806 Prussia sent an ultimatum demanding the immediate withdrawal of the French armies across the Rhine and Napoleon’s assent to the formation of the promised North German Confederation under Prussian leadership. Napoleon did not bother to respond, so on 8 October Prussia declared war. Napoleon was better prepared for this eventuality, having kept the Grande Armée in Germany for that very purpose. He concentrated his 180,000 men on the river Main, determined to strike at Berlin before help could arrive from Russia.

Napoleon was now assembling his IV (under Marshal Nicolas Soult), VI (under Marshal Michel Ney), and VII (under Marshal Pierre-François-Charles Augereau) Corps in Franconia. On 3 October Marshal Louis Davout’s III Corps arrived in Bamberg and Marshal François Lefebvre’s V Corps was moving to join them. The Prussians moved into Saxony to meet them. Napoleon’s plan was simply to locate and destroy the Prussians before any assistance from the Russians could arrive. An advance from southern Germany on Berlin would isolate the Prussians in the west, forcing them to withdraw.

The Prussians, only 145,000 strong, decided to seek victory alone rather than fall back toward the east and await the arrival of the tsar’s forces. The difference in numbers was not in itself decisive, but there is only one thing worse than dividing one’s army into two before the enemy, and that is dividing it into three, which is precisely what the Prussians did. Frederick William had not been able to get Brunswick to collaborate with Hohenlohe, so each was allowed to take the measures he considered appropriate. A third force of 15,000 men under General Ernst Friedrich Wilhelm von Rüchel was also formed. They faced 180,000 of Napoleon’s veterans under a unified command. The resulting confusion diminished the chances of a successful outcome.

Napoleon now moved into Saxony marching in three columns. Soult (IV Corps) led the right column, about 40,000 men strong, with Ney (VI Corps) and the Bavarian contingent following him. It moved via Hof on Plauen. Bernadotte (I Corps) led the center column, about 70,000 men, with Davout (III Corps), much of the Reserve Cavalry, and the Imperial Guard following him. They moved from Kronach in the direction of Schleiz. The V Corps, now under Marshal Jean Lannes, led the left column, about 50,000 men, followed by Augereau (VII Corps). They moved toward Saalfeld and crossed the frontier on 8 October.

Fortunately for Napoleon, the Prussians had neglected to block the passages through the Thüringian Forest. The Grande Armée’s three columns formed into a bataillon carré (battalion square), which would allow it to counter any offensive actions from the Prussians. The column attacked would simply fight a delaying action, falling back if necessary, allowing the remaining columns to swing into action against the Prussian flank. That day ended with Lannes’s column moving toward Saalfeld and Soult’s moving toward Hof. Matters were going well for Napoleon. The unity of command and the greater experience of recent warfare gave the French a considerable advantage.

The lack of a single command and of a clear objective hindered Prussian countermoves. The first sign of what was to come took place at Saalfeld on 10 October. Here, Lannes overwhelmed and defeated an exposed Prusso-Saxon force of around 8,000 men under the youthful and impetuous Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, who was killed in action. This body of men was the vanguard of Hohenlohe’s corps. It had been outnumbered 2 to 1 in this combat, so the result was to be expected. However, the death of the popular prince at the hands of a French hussar caused consternation in both the army and the nation. The frictions between the Prussians and the Saxons increased. The rot began to set in.

Expecting the Prussians to fall back on Gera to cover Leipzig, Napoleon marched north in the hope of catching the Prussian corps individually. His cavalry patrols located the main Prussian force further to the north or west, not to the northeast. No Prussians were sighted in Gera or on the river Elster. Napoleon concluded that the Prussians were to the west and would offer battle around Erfurt, so he ordered his columns to wheel to the left.

Brunswick declined to hold the line of the river Saale. Hohenlohe fell back on Jena, while Brunswick advanced on Weimar. Bernadotte wheeled toward the center column, while Davout passed through Naumburg. By taking this crossing at the river Unstrut, the French had cut off the Prussians’ intended line of retreat and their communication with Berlin. Their council of war now decided to fall back on Leipzig via Auerstädt, the Kösen Pass, Freyburg, and Merseburg. Hohenlohe was ordered to protect the flank of the main body, occupying the village of Kapellendorf, halfway between Weimar and Jena.

Not expecting to face the Prussians in battle for a few days yet, Napoleon reacted quickly to news of sightings of their actual positions and movements. Believing the main body of the Prussians was on the far side of Jena, he decided to strike, calling in the support of parts of the right column to join the left and center.

The battles of Jena and Auerstädt were confused affairs. At Auerstädt, Brunswick, with 50,000 men, bumped into Davout’s force of 27,000 men blocking his line of retreat. Davout’s successful defense of Hassenhausen is legendary. He repelled Brunswick, who was mortally wounded, leaving his men leaderless.

Napoleon met what he considered the main Prussian force at Jena. He started the affair with around 55,000 men against Hohenlohe’s 40,000 Prusso-Saxon corps. Another 40,000 men had joined Napoleon by noon, and weight of numbers told. Rüchel’s force of 15,000 men arrived too late to play much of a part other than to get caught up in the confusion of retreat. Although driven back in disorder, the Prussians had not disgraced themselves, but Napoleon pursued with vigor, turning the retreat into a rout. Napoleon considered that his victory at Jena had expunged the stain of the French defeat at Rossbach during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763).