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Posted on Apr 8, 2007 in Front Page Features, War College

Battle of Koniggratz

By Joshua Gilbert

The Battle of Koniggratz, a painting by Gerog Bleibtreu

The Battle of Koniggratz (also known as Sadowa) was one of the most decisive battles of the 19th Century. In this battle the Prussian 1st and 2nd Armies fought with the Austrian Army of the North for control of Germany.

Koniggratz was the result of years of political maneuvering. By the mid-19th Century Prussia, previously thought of as the weakest of the German powers, was rising like a phoenix. This revival was, for the most part, a result of the influence of one man: Otto von Bismarck. The ‘Iron Chancellor’ was a member of a generation of great political figures, the moving force behind their nation’s respective revolutions.


The primary aim of Bismarck, since his coming to power in 1862, was the creation of a German state lead by Prussia, but without Austria. This doctrine was known as Kleindeutsche Losung (German: Lesser German Solution). The idea arose because Austria refused to separate from the vast non-German lands controlled by the Habsburgs. To this end Bismarck used of all of his considerable political abilities. However he knew that ultimately the issue of German Unification would have to be decided on the battlefield. For that purpose Prussia had another genius of the age in the person of Helmuth von Moltke, the Chief of the Great General Staff.

In 1864 Austria and Prussia together made war on the Kingdom of Denmark. This war began over the disputed territories of Schleswig and Holstein, which all three powers claimed as their own. The conflict ended quickly and the victors divided the spoils. Austria took Schleswig and Prussia, Holstein. All of this had been engineered more or less by Bismarck, with the ultimate objective of starting a war. Though confident of a Prussian victory Bismarck knew that the kingdom was not ready yet and in 1865 he managed to organize a conference with the Austrians at Gastein to try to buy some time. Most of this time was spent convincing von Moltke to support and begin planning for a war with Austria.

Wilhelm I, King of Prussia, was also not entirely in favor of a war and to allay his and von Moltke’s fears, Bismarck created an alliance with Italy. Italy was a recent creation, having unified after centuries of bickering in 1860. Austria had been the greatest impediment to that unification, and still held lands that the Italians considered their own. A chance for a rematch was exactly what they were looking for.

With both von Moltke and Wilhelm now in support the real work of preparing for war could begin. With Italian support assured there was now one last problem for Prussia to face before the war could begin. France was the predominant power in Europe, and the French would be quite willing to intervene in any war if that war threatened her hegemony. Bismarck personally met with Napoleon III, the French Emperor, and came away confident. The failure of the French intervention in Mexico that same year had shaken French confidence. Austria now effectively stood alone, and Prussia could start the conflict at her leisure. As it was, the Austrians made the first move.

On June 1st, 1866 the Austrians made a proposal at the meeting of the German Confederation to bring the two duchies of Schleswig and Holstein under Confederate administration. The German Confederation was the loose governing body of the various German states put together by the Congress of Vienna. For Prussia this was the perfect opportunity, the delegation declared that the Austrians had broken the agreement made at Gastein and claimed ownership of both duchies. This naturally threw the Austrians for a loop and the meeting went into chaos. This in turn triggered von Moltke to put his grand strategy into action. On June 7th a Prussian force of 12,000 men under the command of General Edwin Rochus von Manteuffel entered Schleswig and threw the Austrian garrison out. The Austrians were outraged and asked for the Confederation to declare war on the now rebel state of Prussia. The vote in favor passed by a close margin and the war was on.

With declaration from the Assembly the Austro-Prussian War had begun. The Austrians mobilized first, and were suddenly caught off guard. The Italian declaration of war was unexpected but, to their credit, the Austrians responded quickly. Two armies were created: the Army of the North to deal with the Prussians and the Army of the South to deal with the Italians. For the Army of the North the popular Field Marshall Ludwig August von Benedek was chosen for command. But even though Kaiser Franz Josef had confidence in Benedek, the Field Marshal had none in himself, which would play a major factor. Meanwhile, in Prussia, the early mobilization had caught the Prussians off guard but von Moltke was able to easily roll it off. Using the railways the Chief-of-Staff was able to get three field armies onto the field much quicker then anyone would have guessed. These three armies were: The Army of the Elbe under General Karl Eberhard Herwarth von Bittenfeld, the 1st Army under Prince Friedrich Karl, and the 2nd Army under Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm. On the Austrian side Benedek moved his forces north into Bohemia and stationed his army at Olmutz, where they dug in. The entire Austrian battle plan was based around static defense, only going on the offense after the Prussians had lost cohesion.

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  1. Koniggratz is not Sadová. Sadová is a small village next to Koniggratz, which is region capital called Hradec Králové.

  2. Interesting…would anyone know which side men from Bohemia would have fought on?

    • Almost all “Bohemian’s” were under Austrian rule

  3. Precisely, the author stated “…Elbe River to the high ground near the towns of Koniggratz and Sadowa.”


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