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Chapter XXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2


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The Prussian ultimatum was sent, as we have seen, to Hanover, Saxony, and Hesse Cassel, on the 15th June. It was evidently the wish of the Prussian Government that Hanover should reject the summons, that an excuse might not be wanting for annexation. On this account no locus pœnitentiœ was allowed. " When, on June 15, Count Platen (the Hanoverian Premier) answered verbally the summons of the Prussian Minister, Prince Ysenburg, 'that Hanover could not join Prussia,' the Prince replied, ' Then I declare war.9 Some hours later, when Count Platen sent him a note, in which a peaceable solution was sought, Prince Ysenburg declined to receive it, on the plea that he had ceased to bear a public character On the evening before, at the end of an interview with Count Barral, Bismarck said to him, " The die is cast; let us be of good courage: but let us not forget that Almighty God is capricious."

The forces of the different states, of which the totals have been given above, were distributed into armies in the following manner. The Prussian forces were formed into three armies. The First Army, commanded by Prince Frederick Charles, the King's nephew, consisted of three infantry and one cavalry corps numbering 120,000 men; its head-quarters were at Görlitz, close to the eastern frontier of Saxony. The Second Army, commanded by the Crown Prince, contained the Guards corps, and three others, numbering 125,000 men; the head-quarters were at Neisse in Silesia, being purposely placed so far to the south in order to induce a belief that the objective of this army was Olmiitz or Brunn, and to disguise as long as possible the real design of leading it across the mountains into Bohemia. The Third Army was that of the Elbe, commanded by General Herwarth von Bittenfeld, whose head-quarters were at Halle; it numbered about 50,000 men, including cavalry. Besides these three armies, which were all designed to act against Austria, special forces to the number of about 60,000 men were prepared to invade Hanover and Hesse Cassel, and afterwards to operate against the forces of the southern states friendly to Austria, as circumstances should direct. The special forces that were to attack Hanover were under the command of Lieutenant-General von Falkenstein, the military governor of Westphalia. Those that were detailed against Hesse Cassel were commanded by General Beyer, whose head-quarters were at Wetzlar, the chief town of a small Prussian enclave, surrounded by the territories of Nassau, Hesse Cassel, and Hesse Darmstadt.

The forces of Austria were divided into two grand armies. That of the north, under Field-Marshal Benedek, who assumed the command on the 19th May, consisted of seven corps d'armée, and five divisions of cavalry, numbering altogether about 245,000 men; its head-quarters were at Josephstadt in Bohemia. That of the south, commanded by the Emperor's uncle, the Archduke Albrecht, consisted of three corps, of which one was at this time quartered in Istria, near Venice, another was posted within the Quadrilateral, and the third was held as a general reserve.

The Saxon army, 25,000 men, effected a junction with the army under Marshal Benedek at the commencement of the campaign, and formed a most valuable addition to it. The Hanoverian army consisted of about 18,000 men, under Lieutenant-General von Arenttschildt; of its fate we shall speak presently. The Bavarian army, assembled on the Upper Main, consisted of between 40,000 and 50,000 men, under the command of Prince Charles of Bavaria. The army composed of the contingents of several of the smaller states, under the name of the 8th Federal Army Corps, was assembled in and around Frankfort within a few days after the war broke out; it numbered 54,000 men, with 136 guns, and was placed under the command of Prince Alexander of Hesse.

The Italian army consisted of four great army corps, stationed respectively at Lodi, Cremona, Piacenza, and Bologna, and under the command of the King in person, assisted by General La Marmora. It numbered at the outset of the campaign about 146,000 men, with 228 pins.

The destruction of the independence of Hanover had probably been long meditated by Count Bismarck. We have seen how the Hanoverian Government was denied the opportunity of reconsidering its adverse reply to the summons of the 15th June, and how frequently Count Bismarck had spoken of the probability of Prussia's commencing operations by attacking Hanover. The Hanoverian troops were about to be assembled for their customary autumn manœuvres, but by means of orders transmitted by telegraph they were nearly all collected at Göttingen, the university town in the south of Hanover, on the 18th June. The blind King, George of Cumberland, first cousin of our Queen, accompanied by the Crown Prince, arrived at Göttingen on the 16th; the Queen and the Princesses courageously remained at the palace of Herrenhausen.

Had Hanover been ready for war, or even had a spirit of promptitude and decision reigned in her councils, her army might, beyond a doubt, have made good its retreat to the south from Göttingen, and effected a junction either with the Bavarians on the Upper Main or with the 8th Corps at Frankfort. But the army was deficient in the means of transport, and in the hurry of the concentration on Göttingen the reserve ammunition had been forgotten. On the 20th June, however, the march southward was commenced, the army taking the direction of Eisenach, evidently with the intention of joining the Bavarians. The way to Frankfort was barred by the presence of the Prussians at Cassel. On the 23rd, a report that Prussian troops had been seen in the Hamich valley, near Eisenach, caused the Hanoverian General to alter slightly the direction of the march; bearing to the left, he entered and occupied Langensalza on the evening of that day. Meantime, Falkenstein was pushing forward his divisions in pursuit from Göttingen, which he had occupied on the 22nd; Beyer sent a portion of his force from Cassel to Eisenach; and several battalions of the Saxe-Coburg troops (the Duke of Saxe-Coburg having sided with Prussia) were posted at Gotha. But a vigorous forward movement on the 24th would have easily borne down the opposition of the Prussian forces then assembled at Eisenach and Gotha; and such a movement the King had resolved on making. Hanoverian troops advanced upon Eisenach on the evening of the 24th; they had a decided superiority of numbers, and were just about to attack with every prospect of success, when a telegram was brought to the colonel commanding the advance, signed by the Hanoverian officer, Major von Jacobi, who had been negotiating with the Duke of Saxe-Coburg at Gotha, announcing that hostilities were to be avoided, as the conditions laid down by Hanover in the negotiations had been accepted by Prussia. Unfortunately for the King of Hanover, he had not clearly made up his mind whether to fight or to negotiate; and this irresolution placed him at a disadvantage when opposed to men who knew exactly what they wanted, and were not troubled by scruples as to the honourableness of the means employed to compass it. The terms proposed by the King of Hanover, for the unmolested march and future neutrality of his army, were recommended to the Prussian Government for acceptance by the Duke of Saxe-Coburg on the morning of the 24th, on the express ground that the Prussian forces at Eisenach and Gotha were too weak to prevent the Hanoverians from forcing their way through. But the Prussian Government did not choose to consent to these terms; at the same time, it was of the utmost importance fa it that the Hanoverians should be detained somehow or other for a short time in their present encampment, since the railway from Magdeburg by Halle to Gotha would enable it in a very brief space of time to concentrate at Gotha a force which would effectually bar the Hanoverian march. The ruse, therefore, was resorted to of sending to the Hanoverian advance the lying telegram bearing the signature of Major von Jacobi. It is not certainly known what part was played by the Duke of Saxe-Coburg, or by the Prussian authorities with whom he was in constant communication, in this not very j creditable stratagem; but there is a significant old proverb which bids us ask, when we wish to ascertain the authorship of any act, " To whom is it for good " However this may be, the Hanoverians drew off, on the receipt of the telegram, and retired upon their main body at Langensalza. On the night of the 24th, a messenger was sent from Langensalza to the Bavarian headquarters at Bamberg, to report the situation of the Hanoverian army, and to solicit speedy assistance. Prince Charles coolly replied that, an army of 19,000 men ought to be able to cut its way through, and only sent forward a few detachments for a short distance along the road to Gotha. On this, Captain Hozier remarks, " This procedure of Prince Charles of Bavaria was alone sufficient to condemn him as a general. He held his army inactive, when, by a bold advance, not only could lie have insured the safety of the Hanoverians, but could in all probability have captured the whole of his enemy's troops at Gotha. Thus lie would have saved 19,000 allies, have captured 6,000 of his adversary's men, have turned the scale of war by 25,000 combatants, and have preserved to his own cause a skilled and highly- trained army, proud of high and ancient military reputation, which the faults of politicians had placed in a most precarious and unfortunate position."

The King waited where he was during the 25th and 26th, engaged in pour-parlers, which led to nothing, with the Prussian Lieutenant-General von Alvensleben, who had been sent to negotiate from Berlin. Thus his only hope of escape vanished; for during the 25th troops were being hurried up in all directions to Gotha and Eisenach, so that by the evening of that day there were already thirteen Prussian battalions at Eisenach, and twelve at Gotha, besides cavalry and artillery. Major- General Flies arrived at Gotha on the 26th, and took the command, intending to attack the Hanoverians on the morrow. Perhaps it was well for their fame that he did so, since the time for forcing their way to the southward was probably now gone by, and, with a force of 12,000 enemies entrenched at Gotha, and another force of 13,000 encamped a few miles to the westward, the chance was but trifling that a small army of 18,000 men, ill fed and short of ammunition, would be able to fight its way to the southward in spite of them. Had the Hanoverian army been left to itself, it would either have capitulated in a few days to a superior force, or, if it had attempted to continue its march, it would probably have been attacked on both flanks, and could scarcely have escaped a great disaster. As it was, Major-General Flies gave them the opportunity of winning a victory, which, in the long night of political extinction that has followed, must have often cheered the downcast spirits of Hanoverian patriots, when brooding indignantly over the mixture of fraud, rapine, and violence to which the independence of their country succumbed.

Flies had moved his force out from Gotha on the evening of the 26th, and bivouacked at Werza; whence he advanced in the direction of Langensalza early on the morning of the 27th. Through some mismanagement or misconception, such as did not often occur on the Prussian side, the real superiority of force which the Prussians could by this time have brought to bear against the Hanoverians was not made available, and Flies was about to attack an army considerably more numerous than his own. Misleading reports respecting the movements both of the Bavarians and Hanoverians had reached Von Falkenstein at Eisenach. He therefore ordered Goeben with his division to watch the Bavarians, who were supposed to be advancing from the south, and detached _ Manteuffel towards Mühlhausen, a town between Göttingen and Langensalza, under the erroneous belief that the Hanoverians were now retreating northwards, and meant to seek a strong position among the Harz Mountains. General Arenttschildt entertained no such intention, but, expecting to be attacked from Gotha, he had drawn up his little army on the northern bank of the Unstrut, a marshy stream which runs past Langensalza in a general easterly direction, running to join the Saale near Leipsic. The Prussians advanced gallantly, drove in the Hanoverian outposts on the right or south bank of the Unstrut, and attempted to cross the river. But the Hanoverian artillery, judiciously posted and well served, defeated this attempt. A number of partial actions, in which great gallantry was exhibited on both sides, occurred in different parts of the field. The Prussians, however, being decidedly over-matched, were unable to gain ground; and about one o'clock, General Arenttschildt ordered his brigade commanders to cross the Unstrut, and assume the offensive. This was done - ineffectually for a time on the Hanoverian left, where the swampy nature of the ground by the river presented great obstacles to an advance - but with complete success on their right, where General Bulow drove the Prussians steadily before him, and was able to use his superior cavalry with considerable effect. The excellent military qualities of the Prussian soldier, and the deadly rapidity of fire of the needle-gun, prevented the retreat from becoming a disaster. However, General Flies had no choice but to order a general retreat, and fall back in the direction of Gotha. Two guns and two thousand stand of arms fell into the hands of the victors, whose cavalry continued the pursuit till about half-past four, making many prisoners.

In this battle of Langensalza, the Hanoverians sustained a heavier loss in killed and wounded than the Prussians, doubtless owing to the comparative inefficiency of their firearms. The loss on their side amounted to 1,429; on the Prussian side it did not much exceed 800; but the Hanoverians claimed to have captured upwards of 900 prisoners, besides the two guns already mentioned.

On the day after the battle, the King of Hanover, still at Langensalza, published a general order, thanking the troops for the gallantry they had displayed. Nevertheless, a council of war being held in the course of the day by the principal officers of the army, the situation of affairs appeared to them to be desperate, and they reported then opinion to the blind King. How far Prussian promises and inducements may have been influential in producing this unanimity among the officers, there are no means of judging. It is certain that the soldiers, although insufficiently fed, and exhausted by the great heat and the hardships of their unaccustomed life, were extremely dissatisfied at the prospect of a capitulation, and demanded to be again led against the enemy. Perhaps a determined pressing onwards might, since the force at Gotha had been defeated, have brought at least a considerable portion of the army to a place of safety, within reach or supporting distance of the Bavarians. But it is idle to speculate in this direction, and the King took the only course which could be considered prudent, under the circumstances, in authorising General Arenttschildt to treat for a capitulation. Yon Falkenstein required an unconditional surrender, and a convention was drawn up accordingly; but on the 29th General Manteuffel arrived from Berlin, empowered by the King to grant additional articles, which were more honourable and more favourable to the Hanoverians. The King of Prussia commanded that, in the first place, his highest recognition of the gallant conduct of the Hanoverian troops should be recorded. It was then agreed that the King of Hanover, with the Crown Prince and his suite, should be at liberty to fix his royal residence anywhere he pleased, except in Hanover, his private property remaining at his high disposal. The officers were to retain their arms and horses: all other arms, horses, and ammunition were to be surrendered; and both officers and men were to engage not to serve against Prussia. This convention, thus modified, was signed at Langensalza, on the 29th June, by the Lieutenant-Generals Arenttschildt and Manteuffel.

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Pictures for Chapter XXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2

The Prince of Augustenburg
The Prince of Augustenburg >>>>
Battle of Langensalza
Battle of Langensalza >>>>
Frankfort-on-the-Main
Frankfort-on-the-Main >>>>
General Steinmetz
General Steinmetz >>>>
Marshal Benedek
Marshal Benedek >>>>
The Battlefield of Königgrätz
The Battlefield of Königgrätz >>>>

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