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Chapter XXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9

The Military System of Prussia; its Reorganisation in 1859; its Efficiency and Completeness: Special Services - The Austrian Army; its Motley Composition: Difficulties attendant on Mobilisation-Importance to Austria of taking the Initiative - The Saxon Army - Forces of other Allies of Austria - The Italian Army - Summary of Opposing Forces - Attempts of Prussia to Excite an Insurrection in Hungary - Positions and Strength of the Field Armies of the Belligerents - The Hanoverian Army concentrates at Göttingen; marches upon Eisenach; is deceived by a Prussian ruse - The Bavarians fail to assist the Hanoverians - Prussian troops hurried up - Battle of Langensalza: Victory of the Hanoverians: They are compelled to Capitulate - Extinction of the Kingdom of Hanover - Reflections - Occupation of Cassel by the Prussians: Imprisonment of the Elector - The Saxon Army marches into Bohemia - Saxony overrun by the Prussians - Occupation of Dresden - Manifesto of the Emperor of Austria - General Orders of Marshal Benedek and Prince Frederick Charles - Prussian Invasion of Bohemia - Operations on the line of the Iser - Action of Münchengrätz - Rapid Advance of Prince Frederick Charles - Count Clam Gallas driven from Gitschin - Heavy Austrian Losses - The Army of Silesia - Address of the Crown Prince to the Soldiers - Passage of the Mountains at three points - Action of Trautenau; the Prussians repulsed - Actions of Soor and Burgersdorf - Action of Nachod; of Skalitz - Hungarian Prisoners - Defective Discipline - Concentration of the Second Army near Gradlitz - Communications opened with the First Army - Benedek's Faulty Strategy: He Concentrates his Army in Front of Königgrätz - King of Prussia arrives at Gitschin: Takes the Supreme Command of the Prussian Armies - Conference - Prince Frederick Charles determines to Advance - The Austrian Position - The First Army moves forward to Dub - Morning of the 3rd July - Battle of Königgrätz: Austrian Order of Battle: The Army of the Crown Prince Attacks the Austrian Right: The Prussian Guards seize Chlum: Benedek vainly attempts to dislodge them: General Retreat of the Austrians: Forces engaged: Loss on both sides - Cession of Venetia by Austria to France.
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Before describing the achievements of the Austrian and Prussian armies in the field, some account of their relative strength when fully mobilised, and of the military system under which each was raised, may fitly be given.

The Prussian military system was reorganised in 1859, and the required changes were chiefly carried out by General von Roon, the Minister of War. Great opposition was made to them from time to time in the Prussian Chambers, on the ground that they imposed a heavy charge on the public revenue, and interfered still more than the old system with the progress and development of industry; but the King and his ministers, by their indomitable firmness, always succeeded in having their own way. The standing army and the reserves were considerably increased, so as to dispense the men of the Landwehr, under ordinary circumstances, from the necessity of being called into the field. In two important points improvements were introduced which alone sufficed to place the efficiency and serviceableness of the Prussian army at a higher level than that of any other nation. These consisted in the perfect organisation of two classes of troops, which, when war has once broken out, are of prime necessity, viz., depot troops and garrison troops. Each regiment of infantry, on being mobilised, had to form a depot battalion, each regiment of cavalry a depot squadron, each brigade of artillery a depot division, each battalion of pioneers a depot company. These I depot troops (which' were drawn from the reserve) amounted to rather over 100,000 men; they were stationed at convenient points in rear of the main armies, ready to go forward and reinforce the regiment, brigade, &c., to which they belonged, in proportion as these last were diminished by the drain of war. In this way, provision was made for keeping the armies in the field up to their full strength - at any rate, for a considerable time after the commencement of hostilities. Again, the organisation of a large force of "garrison troops" tended also, like that of the depot troops, to prevent the diminution of the field armies, but in a different way. These garrison troops, about 118,000 in number, were drawn from the first levy of the Landwehr; their duties consisted, not merely in garrisoning fortresses, but much more in guarding the communications, escorting convoys, watching telegraph-lines, and occupying towns and villages, as the army advanced, so as to prevent the necessity of making calls for all these indispensable services on the troops of the field army. In these, and in a hundred other ways, the military authorities in Prussia had been continually aiming for many years to make their army the most perfect possible instrument both for attack and defence. The officers - almost all of gentle birth, but not possessed by those arrogant aristocratic notions which the enormous wealth and vast possessions of many Austrian nobles imported into their army - found both their duty and their delight in studying the art of war in every principle and every detail. Their eyes and ears were always open; they carefully noted and tested whatever the experience of the French, in 1859, and of the Americans, in their Civil War, had discovered, as to the mode of applying to war the inventions of modern industry and mechanical science; and when such an invention had been once approved, they often extended and methodised its use with surprising forethought and intelligence. The Prussian information department was a model of celerity and efficiency. The order of battle of the Austrian army, and the topography of Bohemia, were better known perhaps at Berlin than at Vienna. Excellent maps were in the hands of every officer. A railway corps and a bridge-making corps were organised, trained in the most expeditious methods of re-constructing railway lines that had been broken up, and replacing bridges that had been destroyed; divisions of these corps followed in the rear of each field army. These preparations had been carried on with no less discretion than perseverance. Europe had no conception either of their efficacy or of their extent. It was the fashion to speak rather slightingly of what were regarded as the theoretical combinations of pen-and-ink strategists; and this Prussian army, which had never proved what it could do, which was subjected to so brief a training to arms, and consisted so largely of recruits, was imagined to be little capable of confronting the legions of Austria.

The Austrian army enjoyed a great name, and was rather too much disposed to remain stationary, and repose on its laurels. When the efficiency of the needle-gun, as proved in the war with Denmark, was alleged to Austrian military men, they would make light of it, and talk about the fondness of their men for close quarters, and their proficiency with the bayonet. Soldiers tell you that this fond persuasion of their being particularly formidable with the bayonet, is a delusion common to the troops of almost every nation. The Austrian officers were not men of study, like their Prussian rivals, but, to a great extent, men of pleasure. Neither the tie of discipline, nor the consciousness of intelligent co-operation, which bound the Prussian officers and privates so closely together, was operative in the Austrian army to anything like the same extent. To this contributed also the difficulties arising from the heterogeneous character of the forces, raised to protect the motley nationality of Austria. The officers often did not understand the language of their men, and regiments differing in nationality, and therefore in speech, often had to be brigaded together. The maxim " Divide et impera " is a good one as against those who are subject to your control; but it leaves you at a disadvantage when you are confronted with a neighbouring power, which, from being homogeneous, can rule its people without dividing them. The Austrian Government brought the troops that it raised in Italy into Bohemia or Galicia, stationed its best German troops in Italy, and its Hungarian troops anywhere except in Hungary; and, in the absence of an overpowering strain, the system worked well. But when the nation was called upon suddenly to prepare for war, the defects of an arrangement which separated each regiment widely from its recruiting ground were immediately perceived. The fifth or depot battalion of each regiment was permanently quartered in the country where the regiment had been raised, and on it fell the duty of recruitment for the regiment, as soon as the orders for mobilisation and completing to the war strength had been received. But, 'for many reasons, the field battalions of the regiment could not conveniently obtain the recruits which they required, except in close proximity to the depot battalion. When, therefore, in face of the menacing attitude of Prussia, the necessity of arming and filling up the cadres forced itself upon the Austrian Government, a complicated movement of troops immediately took place, each regiment repairing to its native soil - Hungarians to Hungary, Bohemians to Bohemia, and so on - in order that it might be near its depot battalion. It was impossible to conceal these movements; and as they commenced in March, they furnished Count Bismarck with a useful allegation against Austria, that she was the first to arm, and was, therefore, bent upon war. Yet, after all, so imperfectly thought out and fore-determined were all her arrangements, in comparison with those of Prussia, that she was deprived of all power of taking the initiative in the campaign, and so availing herself of her strong position in Bohemia. A military writer (Colonel Hamley), in a paper contributed at the time to Blackivood's Magazine, shows that Austria - on condition that in any war fought with Germany she take the initiative - possesses in the mountain- bound stronghold of Bohemia, projecting forward between Saxony and Silesia, a military advantage of the first order. For she can keep her army concentrated behind the mountains, while Prussia, or whatever Power is predominant in North Germany, is compelled to spread its forces over Silesia and Saxony (using this term in the widest sense); and, issuing out on whichever side she prefers, she can either descend from the Erz-gebirge in overwhelming force on the Saxon plains, menacing Berlin, and probably compelling an evacuation of Silesia; or make a similar descent across the Riesen-gebirge into Silesia. But if she allows the initiative in the war to be taken from her, if she waits till her enemy has seized the passes through both ranges of mountains, and till his columns, descending on the plains, are within supporting distance of each other, then the topography of Bohemia avails her no longer, and her soldiers have to fight on their own soil, with no particular advantage of position or numbers, and dispirited by the sense that the barriers of the land have been wrenched from them by their more active adversary. It was the profound study of these fixed conditions of a war with Austria which made the Prussian strategists realise the immense importance of celerity in all their military combinations, led them to investigate the means of attaining this celerity, and determined them, at all risks, to take the initiative in the campaign.

Of the armies of the secondary German states which sided with Austria, that of Saxony, which had all its preparations in a forward state, and which, as we shall see, succeeded in making good its retreat into Bohemia when the Prussians advanced, consisted of 25,000 excellent troops, and sixty guns. The total military strength of the other German allies of Austria was about 135,000 men, of whom about 18,000 were cavalry, and 300 guns. But multiplicity of commands, diversity of views, mutual jealousies - to say nothing of different systems of armament and commissariat - diminished in a remarkable degree the fighting power of this large body of troops. The contingents of the German states which joined Prussia amounted altogether to about 28,000 men.

The Italian army consisted of eighty regiments of the line, containing about 202,000 men, five regiments of Bersaglieri (the old crack troops of the Sardinian kingdom), numbering 25,000 men, and about 13,000 cavalry, with 480 guns.

The forces ranged against each other at the opening of the war of 1866 may be briefly exhibited in tabular form, thus: -

Prussian army (exclusive of depot and garrison troops) - 351,000
Armies of German States allied with Prussia - 28,600
Italian army 240,840
Total - 620,440

Artillery: Prussian guns, 1,092; Italian guns, 480; total, 1,572.
Austrian army: - Infantry, 321,140; cavalry, 26,621; artillery, 24,601; engineers and pioneers, 11,194: total - 383,556
Armies of German states allied to Austria - - - 160,586
Total - 544,142

Artillery: Austrian guns, 1,036; German guns, 360: total, 1,396.

Thus, merely reckoning the field armies on both sides, the accession of Italy threw a decided preponderance, even of numbers, into the scale of Prussia. Austria, to oppose the Italian army, was obliged to keep 150,000 of her best troops south of the Alps; had one-third of these stood in line at Königgrätz, the fortune of the day would probably have been different. In the special and scientific services, Prussia had an additional superiority over Austria; she had 30,000 cavalry, 35,000 artillery, and 18,000 pioneers, while the Austrian strength in each of these branches was, as we have seen, considerably smaller.

It was not Count Bismarck's fault if. the disparity of force between the belligerents was not still greater. The great statesman appears to have held the opinion that " everything is fair in war." He had for years repressed, roughly and decisively, all revolutionary or ultra-democratic movements in Germany; he had helped Russia to put down the Polish insurgents in 1864; he had read Austria an edifying lecture, so late as in the January of this year, on the enormity of her conduct in furthering " the revolutionary transformation of the people of Holstein," by allowing the partisans of the Prince of Augustenburg to hold a few public meetings. But now he thought he saw an opportunity of employing the revolution in the task of humbling Austria, and he grasped at it at once. The Prussian Minister at Florence, Herr von Usedom, wrote to La Marmora on the 12th June, that he had received orders from Bismarck to inform the Italian Government, that with regard to the Hungarian affair, Prussia was ready to furnish one half of the funds necessary to operate upon the Hungarians and Sclavonians, if Italy would undertake to supply the other half. At the beginning of May, General Govone had asked whether Prussia would be disposed to sacrifice five million francs (£200,000) to be expended in fomenting an insurrection in Hungary, and Count Bismarck had thrown cold water on the project. But in the interval he appears to have conversed with some Hungarian exiles, who had converted him to their views. Usedom was, therefore, now ordered to propose that the sum of three millions should be expended, one million in making the necessary preparations, and two millions at the moment when the populations in question should effectively take part in the campaign. La Marmora, who had a genuine dislike for revolutionary agencies, was pestered at the same time by memorials and proposals of all kinds from Hungarian exiles, among whom we meet with the celebrated name of Kossuth. The ex-Governor of Hungary, in an eloquent and highly imaginative epistle, proposed seriously to the Italian Government to enter into an alliance with Hungary, that is, with the Hungarian exiles and revolutionists! As if, says La Marmora, to ally ourselves with a strong and robust kingdom like Prussia, with its finances and its army in the most admirable condition, was the same thing as to ally ourselves with an imaginary kingdom, such as Hungary was then, without soldiers and without money! Yet, so bent was Count Bismarck on humbling Austria, and so little scrupulous was ho as to means, that he wished Italy to direct her attack, not upon the Quadrilateral, but upon the Austrian provinces at the head of the Adriatic, in the hope of raising, by the liberal distribution of money, that most hateful of all strifes, a civil and revolutionary war. But La Marmora was better informed as to the real state of things in Hungary, and refused to be led into the Prussian project. He reminds his readers with what ardour the Hungarians, both officers and soldiers, fought at Custozza; and declares that the Hungarian generals, whom Prussia sent into Hungary during the struggle, were notoriously ill-received by their countrymen. He further mentions that the Italian Minister, Visconti, wrote to him about this, time from Constantinople, after having just travelled through Hungary, " that the country was much better disposed to conciliation than to revolution, and that the émigrés had little influence."

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Pictures for Chapter XXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9

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