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

Battle of Koniggratz

By Joshua Gilbert

However by doing this they entirely gave the initiative over to the Prussians, who used it well. On June 16th the Army of the Elbe crossed into Saxony and forced the army of the Saxon Crown Prince Albrecht towards the Austrian I Corps. Benedek, now with expanded powers, knew he could not leave them exposed. Thusly the I Corps were ordered to hold position at Gitschin while the main force moved up to Josefov in support. This presented von Moltke with a brilliant opportunity to end the war quickly before it could drag out. He ordered both the 1st and 2nd Army to advance towards Gitschin. It was a risky move, one army could outpace the other, allowing for Benedek to destroy the Prussians piecemeal when he arrived. But the gamble succeeded brilliantly, the Austrians were caught off guard and the I Corps was sent reeling back, devastated by the 1st Army.


The 2nd Army meanwhile engaged the main Austrian force in a series of border battles, throwing it too back in disarray. It was not until June 30th that the full extent of the Prussian maneuvers was revealed. Von Moltke was superbly confident that now the first phase of his plan had been achieved he could move on towards the annihilation of the Austrians. Benedek meanwhile was so gloomy he advised Kaiser Franz Josef to sue for peace. But to the old emperor that was not acceptable, not without a battle first.

On July 1st the Austrians, thought to be licking their wounds, suddenly disappeared from Prussian sight. Benedek had pulled his army across the Elbe River to the high ground near the towns of Koniggratz and Sadowa. Early on July 2nd Prussian scouts rediscovered the Austrian positions. Von Moltke, who was present in the area, immediately saw the opportunity for encirclement and ordered Prince Friedrich Karl forward. But when a reconnaissance-in-force encountered withering fire from the Austrians he knew something was up, something big. A furious series of messages where exchanged over the course of the day until finally a plan was worked out. The 1st Army in conjunction with the Army of the Elbe would attack the Austrian positions across the Bistritz River the following day, July 3rd. The 2nd Army would move as fast as possible from its positions to their aid and thusly crush the Austrians between them. But this plan carried more risk then the previous one, everything had to happen exactly right or the Prussians would be crushed by Austrian numbers. The battle began at 7 A.M., July 3rd, 1866.

The Prussian forces were a formidable modern army in all ways. The 1st Army contained the II, III, IV Army Corps. The 2nd Army which arrived later on the battlefield contained the I, V, VI, and the Guard Army Corps. Each Army Corps contained two divisions and an artillery reserve. Each division contained four infantry regiments, four cavalry squadrons, and four artillery batteries. The exception was the Army of the Elbe which contained three divisions, three cavalry brigades, and a artillery reserve. In all the 1st Army contained 85,000 men, the Army of the Elbe 39,000, and the 2nd Army 100,000. One of the major advantages of the Prussians in this matter was the superiority of their armament, especially the rifles. The standard rifle issued was the Dreyse needle-gun, a breech loading bolt-action rifle that could fire five rounds a minute. The Prussians also carried breech loading cannons, but the weapons were ineffective and did not play a part in the battle.

The Austrians had sheer numbers to make up for their deficiency in technology. Unlike the Prussians who used the normal model of army structure the Austrians used a different mode. The Army of the North contained the I, II, III, IV, VI, VIII, and X Army Corps. In addition there was also the I and II Light Cavalry divisions, the I, II, and III Reserve Cavalry divisions and the artillery reserve. Each Army Corps contained four brigades, and a squadron of light cavalry. Each brigade contained two regiments and a battalion of Jaegers (German: Hunters). Also present was the Saxon Army Corps which was organized along the normal manner, containing the I, II, and Cavalry divisions. In all the Army of the North contained 90,000 men and the Saxon Army Corps 25,000. In their armament the Austrians were inferior to the Prussians, carrying the Lorenz muzzle loading rifle for their standard rifle. However the Austrian cavalry and artillery were superior to the Prussians in that they were far better trained, and in the case of the artillery, their pieces more reliable.

The assault had begun. Early in the morning of July 3rd von Moltke, who had arrived on field to supervise the battle in person, ordered the VIII, V, and VI Divisions to advance towards Sadowa. The III and IV Divisions would at the same time advance southwards to Unter-Dohalitz and Mokrowous. The Army of the Elbe was also set in motion on the Prussian right. The combined cavalry of the 1st Army and the Army of the Elbe kept all forces involved in contact with one another. Von Moltke then dispatched orders to General Eduard Friedrich von Fransecky and his VII Division to march. Von Fransecky had a very important role to play in the battle plan. It was up to him to hold the entire Austrian right wing in place until the Crown Prince arrived. At 8 A.M. the Army of the Elbe’s advance threatened the Saxon Army Corps on the Austrian left wing sufficiently enough for Benedek to order them to fall back. When they had reached their new positions the left wing opened fire on the advancing Prussians, the artillery soon joined in.

The sudden attack surprised the Prussians and von Bittenfeld was left in a bind. His hesitation would leave his soldiers to make the decision to try hold their positions as long as possible, finally falling back at 10:00. Meanwhile in the center the VIII Division had captured Sadowa at 8:30 while the III and IV cleared their respective targets to the south. Benedek had managed to pull back the defenders in good order to a new line of defense. Once they had formed up the entire Austrian line and artillery opened up on the Prussians. It was devastating, the constant artillery fire and the accuracy of Austrian rifle fire was decimating the Prussian ranks and causing the entire advance to suddenly halt. None suffered as much as the VIII and IV Divisions, whose ranks suffered so much that at one point when Wilhelm I arrived on the field he intended to ride out and lead them himself so that they would "fight like brave Prussians".

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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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