OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Chapter XXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 3


Pages: 1 2 <3> 4 5 6

It is needless to observe that this convention embodied the last public act which Hanover was destined to execute as an independent state. The Prussians overran the kingdom, and took its administration into their own hands. With what unblushing disregard to justice and international right all this was brought about, even the meagre sketch which has been given in these pages may sufficiently indicate. Yet it is hazardous for an Englishman to pronounce a decided opinion upon the whole transaction. On the one hand, an ancient ruling house, of an antiquity and dignity beside which the more modern glories of the Hohenzollerns have a parvenu and upstart look, was rudely hurled from the throne; the capital became a provincial town; the nobles were hurt in their feelings of honour, and the honest peasantry in their simple loyalty, by the violent transfer of their allegiance to a foreign sovereign. On the other hand, the commercial classes, with which in Hanover, as in every other country, the prosperity of trade is a paramount consideration, are said to be satisfied with the change, on account of the increased activity which union with Prussia has promoted in the pursuits of trade and industry., To this it must be added, that with so dangerous a neighbour as France, every sensible Hanoverian must feel some satisfaction for the loss of independence in the thought that Germany now offers a compact and united front, where formerly all was weakness and division. Till France has beaten her sword into a ploughshare, it is probable that no serious effort will ever be made to vindicate for Hanover, now an integral part of the Prussian state, any portion of her old independence.

No decided answer having been given by the Government of Hesse Cassel to the summons sent by Prussia on the 15tli inst., war was immediately declared, and General Beyer was ordered to advance with his division from Wetzlar upon Cassel. Breaking up from Wetzlar on the night of the 16th, one of the Prussian brigades reached Cassel by three forced marches on the 19th, and the remainder on June 20. The Elector, taken by surprise, had only time to give directions to his small army to march upon Fulda and Hanau. The soldiers showed an excellent spirit, and obeyed the order strictly; many even joined their respective corps after they had reached Frankfort and Mayence. Thus the army was saved, though it was but ill provided with munitions of war. The Elector himself remained at his country palace of Wilhelmshöhe (memorable a few years later as the place of captivity of the prisoner of Sedan), where he underwent many vexations and annoyances. He was eventually transferred, under arrest, to Bremen, by the express order of the King of Prussia, vainly protesting against the violence to which he was subjected. Cholera having broken out at Bremen, the Elector was subsequently removed to Stettin.

Alone among the three Princes to whom the imperious Prussian summons of June 15 was addressed, the King of Saxony was not taken unprepared. He met the Prussian demand with a direct and unqualified refusal, and immediately put his army in motion to join Marshal Benedek. Orders were given for the dismantling of the railway that enters Saxony out of Prussia, near the course of the Elbe, and for the destruction of the bridge over that river at Rieza. The Saxon pioneers set to work on the night of the 15th, but had made no great progress, when the advanced guard of General Herwarth's army was upon them, early on the morning of the 16th, and compelled them to desist. The rails had been taken up in many places, but not bent or carried away, and only a portion of the bridge of Rieza had been destroyed by the flames, so that the clever workmen of the Prussian railway and pontoon corps soon brought both railway and bridge into working order again. On the same day Prince Frederick Charles, moving from Görlitz, crossed the Saxon frontier, and advanced upon Dresden. A junction was effected between the two armies near Meissen, and both marched to Dresden, which was occupied without opposition on the 18th. By the 20th June, the whole of Saxony (with the exception of the virgin fortress of Königstein in the Saxon Switzerland) was in the power of the Prussians. The war had lasted but five days, and already the vigour and rapidity with which Prussia dealt her blows had secured for her advantages of inestimable value. Her right flank was now perfectly secure from attack, through the prostration of the power of Hanover and Hesse Cassel; the prestige and the terror of her arms were greatly enhanced by the occupation of the beautiful capital of Saxony; and the conquest of that kingdom had rendered possible the union of two Prussian armies, and secured a corresponding shortening and strengthening of her lines. The discipline maintained in the Prussian columns entering Saxony was perfect; there was no plundering, and the least possible amount of damage to property; hence an amicable feeling soon sprang up between the invaders and the natives, and the good-natured soldiers might frequently be seen helping to carry the peasants' hay for them.

There was no formal declaration of war on the part of Austria or Prussia; but an Austrian manifesto appeared on the 17th, and a Prussian on the 18th June. On the 20th, Italy declared war against Austria and Bavaria.

In the Austrian manifesto, addressed "To my peoples," the Emperor retraced the series of events which had culminated in the present situation of affairs, and ascribed the entire guilt of the war to the unprincipled ambition of Prussia. "While engaged," he said, "in a work of peace, which was undertaken for the purpose of laying the foundation for a constitution which should augment the unity and power of the empire, and at the same time to secure to my several countries and peoples free internal development, my duties as a sovereign have obliged me to place my whole army under arms. On the frontiers of my empire, in the south and in the north, stand the armies of two enemies, who have allied with the intention of breaking the power of Austria as a great European state." The hostility of Italy was at least intelligible; she desired to deprive Austria of a portion of her territory, and made no secret of the fact. As for Prussia, events had proved that she substituted open violence for right and justice, and was determined to break down all barriers in Germany which obstructed the path of her inordinate ambition. " The most pernicious of wars, a war of Germans against Germans, has become inevitable, and I now summon before the tribunal of history - before an eternal and all-powerful God - those persons who have brought it about, and make them responsible for the misfortunes which may fall on individuals, families, districts, and countries. We shall not be alone in the struggle which is about to take place. The princes and peoples of Germany know that their liberty and independence are menaced by a Power which listens but to the dictates of egotism, and is under the influence of an ungovernable craving after aggrandisement; and they also know that in Austria they have an upholder of the freedom, power, and integrity of the whole German Fatherland."

On the same day Marshal Benedek published a general order to the Austrian Army of the North, the tone of which, recalling the bombastic manifestoes of a Hooker or a Pope, must have sounded ominous of disaster in the ears of one who had attentively studied the late American War. He told his troops that " the bands would place themselves in the rear of the front of the respective positions, and play heroic pieces for the warlike dance." He alluded to the rumoured superiority of the Prussian firearms, but only to indulge in an idle vaunt. "The enemy has for some time vaunted the excellence of their firearms, but, soldiers, I do not think that will be of much avail to them. We will give them no time, but will attack them with the bayonet and with clubbed muskets. When, with God's help, we shall have beaten our enemies and compelled them to retreat, we will pursue them without intermission, and you shall then find repose upon the enemy's soil, and those compensations which a glorious and victorious army has a right to demand." Such sanguine anticipations, where the wish is father to the thought, are of the same family with the cries " A Berlin! " which resounded through the streets of Paris in July, 1870.

Prince Frederick Charles, who, after the occupation of Saxony, was ready, on the 23rd June, to march for the Austrian frontier, replied to Benedek in a general order, dated Görlitz, June 22, in which he simply reminded his troops that the conflict was one in which the national existence of Prussia was at stake, and expressed his conviction that the streams of blood which their fathers and his had poured out under Frederick the Great, in the War of Independence, had not been spilt in vain. He concluded by bidding them go forward with their old battle-cry, " With God for King and Fatherland! Long live the King!"

The Prince broke up his head-quarters at Görlitz on the 22nd June, and marched thence with the main body of the First Army direct for Zittau, the last town in Saxony towards Bohemia. The passes through the mountains were found to be undefended; in fact, the rapid movements of the Prussians had left no time for Benedek to take the necessary measures. Count Clam Gallas, in command of the 1st Austrian Corps, numbering about 60,000 men, was posted to the south of the mountains, on the line of the Iser (a river which runs into the Elbe at Brandeis, not many miles from Prague), prepared in that advantageous position to stop, or delay as much as possible, the advance of the invaders. At the toll-house which marks the frontier of Bohemia, the Prince stationed himself, on the morning of June 23, to watch his troops march over the border. "As the leading ranks of each battalion arrived at the first point on the road from which they caught sight of the Austrian colours that showed the frontier, they raised a cheer, which was quickly caught up by those in the rear, and was repeated again and again till, when the men came up to the toll-house, and saw their soldier Prince standing on the border line, it swelled into a roar of rapturous delight, which only ceased to be replaced by a martial song that was caught up by each battalion as it streamed into Bohemia. Their chief himself stood by the roadside, calm and collected; but he gazed proudly on the passing sections, and well he might, for never did an army cross an enemy's frontier better equipped, better cared for, or with a higher courage, than that which marched out of Saxony that day."

Our readers will not expect that we should enter into a minute description of the various combats and strategic movements which ensued, till the day on which the opposing hosts were confronted together for the decisive struggle of Sadowa. Such a description belongs to purely military history. It may be found in the pages of Captain Hozier's interesting work, or in those of the Swiss Colonel Rüstow's " Krieg von 1866." The general result of the skirmishes and severer conflicts which occurred, between the First Army and the Army of the Elbe on the one side, and the forces under the Count Clam Gallas on the other, from the 23rd to the 29th of June, may be summed up in a few sentences. The first action was fought at Liebenau, where some Austrian cavalry were driven back on their supports.! On the same day (June 26) a severe action was fought I at the town of Podoll; there was hard fighting in the | streets, and from house to house; but the fatal superiority of the needle-gun soon asserted itself, and the Austrians were driven out of the place, with a loss of several hundreds in killed and wounded, and 500 unwounded prisoners. The Prussian medical men, who tended both friend and foe in the field hospitals with equal zeal and humanity, declared that the Austrian wounded on this occasion were in the proportion of five to one of the Prussian. A more important action was fought at München-grätz (June 28), in which the Austrians were defeated, with the loss of 1,000 prisoners. Türnau - a town which had fallen into the hands of the Prussian advanced guard immediately after the skirmish of Liebenau - Podoll, and Münchenrätz, are all towns situated on the Iser, and the consequence of the Prussian successes in these three actions was that Count Clam Gallas was forced back from the whole line of the Iser, and compelled to retire on Gitschin. Here he took up a strong position on some hilly ground to the north and west of that town, having the little river Czidlina behind him. A Saxon brigade stood in line with the Austrians on this occasion, and fought most gallantly. Lieutenant- General Tümpling had the direction of the main Prussian attack, which was made late in the afternoon of June 29. For some time the resistance of the Austrians and Saxons was stubborn, and the battle remained stationary; gradually, however, fresh troops were brought into action on the Prussian side in overwhelming numbers, and the enemy was dislodged from the hills and woods to which he had clung, losing fearfully in his retreat, from the rapid discharges of the needle-gun. The Austrians, however, withdrew in good order across the Czidlina, and re-formed behind Gitschin. From the whole Prussian line, now crowning everywhere the heights from which their foes had been driven, there thundered down, about nine o'clock in the evening, the shout of victory. But even with this success Prince Frederick Charles was not content, but sent several regiments in, later in the night, to storm Gitschin. There was some street fighting, but the place was not firmly held; and, on the morning of the 30th June, Gitschin was completely in the power of the Prussians, and Clam Gallas was in full retreat upon Nechanitz. The Austrians and Saxons are said to have lost 7,000 prisoners on this disastrous day, besides 3,000 killed and wounded. Many of the regiments that fought against Prussia in this series of actions were Italian, and it is no subject of surprise if we find that they fought with little enthusiasm, and allowed themselves rather easily to be taken prisoners. It could not be expected that they would contend with much spirit against the Power which was fighting the battles of their own countrymen.

While the First Army and the Army of the Elbe were thus advancing from the north, the Second Army was moving from Silesia, under circumstances of far greater difficulty and peril, to effect a junction with them in Bohemia. The Crown Prince had been appointed in May to the command of the Second Army, which consisted of the corps of Guards, and the 1st, 5th, and 6th Army Corps of the line, and, when about to take the field, mustered 125,000 strong. The Crown Prince fixed his head-quarters at Neisse, with the object, as has been already explained, of disguising from the Austrians his intention of leading his army across the Sudetic ranges from the county of Glätz. Between the 10th and the 20th June, the dense masses of the Austrian army (with the exception of the 1st, Corps, under Count Clam Gallas, which had been already detached in advance to the north of Bohemia) moved forward from Moravia and Austrian Silesia, in the direction of Josephstadt. It is clear, therefore, that Marshal Benedek's information as to the real intentions of the Second Army was good; he was, however, so far misled by the movements of the 6th Prussian Corps, which advanced menacingly across the frontier of Austrian Silesia, that he left the 2nd and 3rd Austrian Corps in positions near Böhmisch Trilbau, close to the Moravian border, where they could be of no service in attacking the Prussians at the point where they actually crossed the mountains.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 <3> 4 5 6

Pictures for Chapter XXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 3

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 >>>>

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About