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

Battle of Koniggratz

By Joshua Gilbert

At the other end of the field von Fransecky and his VII Division reached the town of Benatek at around 8 A.M. The VII was preparing to leave the area when enemy fire from the Sweipwald suddenly forced them down. The decision was then made to attack the Sweipwald and clear it of enemy units; as such a position would allow the Austrians to attack the Prussians in the area with impunity. The fierce attack of the Prussians forced the Austrians out of the woods. At this time the Austrian right wing (the IV and II Corps) had moved out of its former positions to move 90 degrees west, bringing the IV Corps under Lt. General Count Tassilo Festitic into contact with the VII Division.

The appearance of the Prussians in the wood surprised Festitic and he began to send in his men piecemeal into the woods to kick them out. This was a stupid move. In the woods the Austrians’ greatest advantage, their range, was basically moot. But the Prussians excelled here, and their needle-guns were devastating at short range. By 9:30 three whole brigades had been wiped out, but the Austrians did not give up. Instead Brig. General Anton von Mollinary (Festitic had been wounded) sent for Lt. General Count Carl Thun von Hohenstein to bring his II Corps to the Sweipwald to aid him.

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The Prussian Infantry advances at Koniggratz

By this time the situation in the center finally began to improve, as the VIII Division was able to reach the safety of some woods, although they continued to take a pounding. Because of this the VIII was able to send out two brigades to the Sweipwald to aid von Fransecky, who was being battered by what can only be termed as suicidal charges. Meanwhile, at Austrian HQ, Benedek finally learned of what was happening on his right flank and blew a gasket. Without the IV and II Corps the right flank was exposed to an attack by the Crown Prince and Benedek knew that he had to defeat Friedrich Karl before Friedrich Wilhelm arrived. Thusly the Field Marshal committed his reserve to reinforce the right while ordering the two counts to pull back immediately. Benedek then suddenly changed his mind and told the reserve to form up for an attack on the Prussian center. In fact he exclaimed to his men "Well, shall we let fly?"

But no one answered him, and he changed his mind once more, keeping the reserve force in a marching limbo. At 11:00, at the Sweipwald, Von Mollinary prepared for another do or die attack on the VII division.  He sent forward the brigade of Carl von Pockh. By now the VII was exhausted from holding off basically a full third of the entire Austrian army and they began to fall back from the woods. At this point the battle hung in the balance, if Von Pockh could make one more charge, the VII would be routed and the Army of the North would be able to roll up the entire Prussian left flank. But just as the attack got under way Von Pockh and 2,000 of his men were cut down by a volley on their flank. As the smoke cleared the identity of the attackers was revealed and the Prussians began to cheer: The Guard Corps had arrived.

With the arrival of the Prussian Guard and the 2nd Army the tide had turned. The Crown Prince’s forces arrived at the field led by the I Guard Division, which arrived near the Sweipwald. The II Guard division arrived on field not far behind them. To the south east of them came up the entire VI Corps, led by the XI and XII Divisions, with the V Corps trailing behind them. At the Austrian HQ, Benedek realized that with the arrival of the 2nd Army his last chance to win the battle was gone. All he could do now was simply defend and hope to save as much of his army as he could. With that in mind he once more ordered the IV and II Corps to pull back to their original positions. Von Mollinary complied, but the effect on morale was devastating, as a result the fallback became a full retreat. Thun refused and gave up on the battle, fleeing with two of his remaining brigades.

At 1:00 the 2nd Army launched an attack upon the entire right wing of the Austrian army, easily breaking the remnants of the IV and II Corps and in the south-east the defenses at the Trotina River. Benedek tried his best to hold on, reforming his positions and moving the artillery to support them. Lt. General Friedrich Hiller Von Gartringen, commander of the I Guard Division, at this time noticed that the new line of defense hinged on the town and heights of Chlum, where a great majority of the artillery was formed up. Hiller immediately moved to attack the town and overran it quickly, throwing the artillery batteries into disarray. With the capture of the town the Austrian lines were now untenable, the center no longer existed and the rest of the army would not hold for long. But even at this point Benedek refused to do anything. At 3 P.M. the Army of the Elbe, encouraged by the good news up and down the line, launched an attack on the Saxon lines opposite them.

Spearheaded by the XIV and XV Divisions the Prussians smashed the Saxon lines heavily. Crown Prince Albrecht now knew the battle was lost, but he needed to buy some time for a retreat. So the Saxon Army Corps formed up one last time and threw itself straight into the Prussian line. Von Bittenfeld once again was struck by indecisiveness and the Army of the Elbe halted. Despite this failure to follow through, Von Bittenfeld had destroyed the Austrian left wing, which moved Wilhelm I to call for all three armies to attack the Austrians at once.

In the Austrian HQ Benedek ordered a general retreat, knowing he could not fight the battle any longer. But Lt. Field Marshal Wilhelm Von Ramming, commander of the reserve VI Corps, decided to take matters into his own hands. At 3:15 he sent him his fresh troops to retake Chlum.  The Austrian artillery, which had since reformed further off in Wsestar, supported him. The sudden attack caught Hiller and the I Guard division off balance and pushed them back into Chlum proper. The force of this attack was the Austrian Brigade, commanded by Brig. General Ferdinand Rosenzweig Von Dreuwehr. As Rosenzweig continued to press on the II Guard Division and soon the I Corps poured into Chlum. But still the attack continued.

It was not until the arrival of XI Division that the Austrian Brigade was routed. Von Ramming however was not willing to retreat, instead he led the remains of the VI and I Corps to resist the tide of Prussians until they too were forced to retreat. By now the battle was won, and Von Moltke ordered a pursuit, for him victory was not good enough, he wanted to surround and destroy the Army of the North completely. But at this point Benedek played his last hand, as it is said. Throughout the battle he had kept his formidable cavalry arm in reserve, behind his army at Koniggratz. After ordering the retreat at 3:00 Benedek had called them up. Now he was going to commit them.

The cavalry, under the overall command of Brig. General Count Carl Condenove and the Prince of Holstein, charged into the pursuing Prussians head on. Again and again for a half-hour the cream of the Austrian cavalry smashed itself into the Prussian lines, routing the Prussian cavalry and throwing the infantry back. This combined with the continuing cannon fire convinced Von Moltke that he had underestimated Benedek and he called off the pursuit. The Austrian cavalry broke off at this point and the battle ended at 9 P.M. The great battle of Koniggratz, one of the most decisive in Europe, was over.

Much happened after the battle. Following the end of the fight, an armistice was declared allowing all forces involved to return to their respective nations. Three weeks later the Austrians sued for peace. Bismarck used the victory to further his ambitions, abolishing the German Confederation and forming the North German Federation from its ashes, excluding Austria and her allies in Germany. Within five years the Prussians went on to defeat the French and break them utterly, creating the German Empire. As for Austria it would go on to recover from the battle, priding herself that she at least achieved defeat with honor. In closing we believe Bismarck was correct when he famously stated that Koniggratz set the German clock right for a century.

Visit Joshua Gilbert at his Website, J. Gilbert History Productions.

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4 Comments

  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?

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

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