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Chapter XXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4


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On the evening of the 20th June, an order came from the King of Prussia, directing the Crown Prince to send intimation in writing to the commanders of the several Austrian outposts, that Prussia considered Austria's bearing at Frankfort as a virtual declaration of war. In a general order, dated at Neisse the same day, the Crown Prince communicated the royal order to the troops under his command, with the addition of a few well-chosen words, as follows: -

" Soldiers of the Second Army! - You have heard the words of our King and Commander-in-Chief! The attempts of His Majesty to preserve peace to our country have proved fruitless. With a heavy heart [not 'd'un cœur leger,' according to the foolish and wicked phrase of M. Ollivier], but with strong confidence in the spirit and valour of his army, the King has determined to do battle for the honour and independence of Prussia, and for a new organisation of Germany on a powerful basis. I, placed by the grace and confidence of my royal father at your head, am proud, as the first servant of our King, to risk with you my blood and property for the most sacred rights of our native country. Soldiers! for the first time for fifty years a worthy foeman is opposed to our army. Confident in your prowess, and in our excellent and proved arms, it behoves us to conquer the same enemy as our greatest King defeated with a small army. And now, forward with the old Prussian battle-cry - 'With God for King and Fatherland!' "

The different corps composing the Second Army were now massed around Glätz, and the Crown Prince, on June 25, left Neisse and proceeded to Eckersdorf, near Glätz. Out of this Silesian county, which juts forward among the mountains that on this side girdle in Bohemia, several good roads lead into Austrian territory. The three northernmost of these - leading respectively by Liebau to Trautenau, by Wünschelburg to Braunau and Eypel, and by Reinerz to Nachod and Skalitz - were selected for the passage of the army, in order that it might be the sooner brought into communication with the armies of Prince Frederick Charles and General Herwarth. The 1st Corps, the Guards, and the 5th Corps were to march by these three roads; the 6th being held in reserve, and directed to advance to Reinerz, in support of the 5th. Breaking up from Liebau on the morning of the 27th June, the 1st Corps, commanded by General von Bonin, advanced through a mountain country to Trautenau. They found the town occupied by the Austrians, and the bridge over the Aupa (a small river running to the southward to join the Elbe at Josephstadt) strongly barricaded. By dint of hard fighting the Prussians forced their way into the town, won the passage of the river, and pushed back the Austrians from the villages on the first hills west of the town. By three o'clock they had achieved all these successes, and the battle appeared to be over. But in about an hour the Austrians again appeared in great force, for General Gablenz, who was here in command, brought up strong reinforcements from Pilnikau, and launched them against the tired Prussians. Slowly forcing them back, the Austrians drove them down into the valley, and recovered the town of Trautenau. General von Bonin felt himself decidedly over-matched, and in the evening retired to Liebau, the place whence he had started that morning. The first serious conflict in which the Army of Silesia was engaged terminated thus in a defeat. But when the returns of loss on both sides are examined, it becomes evident that the Austrians had little cause for exultation. The Prussians, according to their own returns, lost in this action 63 officers and 1,214 men killed and wounded; while the Austrian losses were more than three times as great, amounting to 196 officers and 5,536 men! No wonder if the corps of General Gablenz was "considerably shaken by its victory! "

The Guards Corps was around Braunau on the night of June 26, and on the next day marched for the mountain towns of Eypel and Kosteletz, the first division taking a road from Braunau which led more to the north, and therefore nearer to the'1st Corps, than that followed by the second division. Prince Augustus of Wurtemburg, who was in command of the Guards, heard at Eypel on the evening of the 27th of the check which the 1st Corps had met with, and of its retreat from Trautenau. The Prince resolved to attack General Gablenz the next day. After having repulsed General von Bonin, Gablenz posted his corps on some hilly ground, about the villages of Neu Rognitz, Soor, and Bürgersdorf, some three or four miles south of Trautenau, and about the same distance to the east of Eypel, and there awaited attack. The attack came, and ended, as usual, disastrously for the Austrians. The intolerable superiority of the needle-gun made a pitched battle, unless they were in overwhelming strength, a useless sacrifice of Austrian life. The Guards' first division drove the troops opposed to them from all their positions, and pushed them back in the direction of Pilnikau. While the fight was raging, the second division of the Guards came up from Kosteletz, and, pushing back the Austrian left wing, carried the town of Trautenau by assault, and made 3,000 prisoners. The Austrians lost altogether 5,000 prisoners on this miserable day, and ten guns.

On this same ground, a hundred and twenty-one years before (Sept. 30, 1745), about the villages of Standenz and Bürgersdorf, a Prussian army of 23,000 men, led by Frederick the Great, had defeated a much superior- Austrian force commanded by Prince Charles of Lorraine.

The way was now opened by the victory of the Guards for a fresh advance of the 1st Corps, which marched past the Prince of Wurtemburg at Trautenau on the 99th of June, and advanced, without meeting the enemy, to Arnau on the following day. On the 29th, the Guards, continuing their march into Bohemia, arrived in front of Königinhof, which they were not long in carrying by assault, capturing several hundred prisoners, and gaining an important passage over the Elbe at this point.

The 5th Corps, whose march across the frontier must now be related, was commanded by the brave and experienced veteran, General Steinmetz, who shared in his youth the perils and glories of the Prussian War of Liberation from 1813 to 1815, and had also commanded against the Danes in 1848. After seizing the village of Nachod on the evening of the 26th June, Steinmetz moved forward his troops through the long defile, some five miles in its full extent, along which runs the only road which affords a practicable entrance into Bohemia, at this point, for a large body of troops. No attempt was made on the Austrian side to improve the natural facilities for defence which such a position offered; the road was not broken up; no bridges were destroyed, no riflemen were posted on the heights to harass the long! unwieldy column, encumbered with guns and wagons, as ifc wound along the defile. All that Benedek did was to send General Ramming with the 6th Corps to attack the Prussians at the moment that the column should begin to issue from the defile. General Lowenfeld, commanding the advanced guard, arrived at the end of the pass about ten o'clock on the morning of the 27th, and found the Austrians drawn up and awaiting his approach. A neighbouring wood offered a convenient shelter, into which Lowenfeld threw his few battalions of infantry; his cavalry engaged in a hand-to-hand conflict with the Austrian cuirassiers, in which they were at first overmatched, but, being reinforced, succeeded in utterly defeating their antagonists. The wood was searched by Austrian bullets; and a vigorous attack early in the action, the Austrians having then a great preponderance in numbers, must have resulted in the dislodgment of the Prussians, and the consequent arrest of the march of the entire corps. But no such attack was made; and as fresh Prussian troops continued to pour out of the defile, Steinmetz assumed the offensive, and drove the Austrians from the field. The Crown Prince himself was present on the ground during this action, and is said to have given orders for a decisive charge of cavalry, in which a dragoon and an Uhlan regiment met and overthrew in equal fight the most famous cavalry in Europe. General Ramming fell back to Skalitz, three miles to the westward, on the evening of the 27th. Thence he sent to Benedek an urgent request for reinforcements. The Commander-in-Chief immediately ordered up the 8th Corps from Jaromierz to Skalitz, directing its commander, the Archduke Leopold to supersede Ramming, and employ the much-shaken 5th Corps as a reserve. This was done, and a good position was taken up in front of Skalitz and the line of the Aupa. Steinmetz, insatiable of battle, marched forward the next morning (June 28) to the attack; the numerous and well-served artillery of the Austrians dealt destruction through the ranks of the assailants; but, though sometimes held in check, they were never beaten back, and evening saw the Austrian army abandoning the field, and seeking ground for bivouacking on the other side of the Aupa. Demoralisation, caused by continued ill-success, by distrust of their leaders, and partly by certain political influences that were at work, had by this time made fearful progress in the Austrian ranks. Several thousand men, mostly Hungarians, let themselves be taken prisoners in these actions of Nachod and Skalitz. They were taken to Neisse, and there about one half of them enlisted voluntarily in the revolutionary Hungarian legion which was then in course of formation by General Klapka. But, apart from any political cause of disintegration, the mysterious invisible bond of discipline kept Austrian officers, and men together with a far less power of attraction than that which was infused by the Prussian system into all that were subjected to it. Something like this was once remarked by General Moltke after the war, in the course of a conversation in which it was sought to elicit the precise cause or causes of the surprising facility with which large numbers of unwounded Austrian soldiers had allowed themselves to be captured. It was the company organisation, he thought, that was deficient; Austrian captains and subalterns, as a rule, knew little of their men individually; but when a Prussian regiment was going into action, you heard the men of each company continually saying to each other, "Where is the captain?" "What does the captain say?" They clustered round him naturally, like bees round their queen; and it scarcely ever happened that he was undeserving of their confidence.

After the action at Skalitz, the Archduke Leopold, who had been suffering for some time from illness, was relieved by Marshal Benedek, and turned over his command to Major-General Weber.

Thus the three army corps, which had started from Glätz and Landshut on the 26th, had in three days, with no mishap except the defeat at Trautenau, and with inconsiderable loss, fought their way through the mountain passes, and stood within easy supporting distance, in the rich undulating country which forms this part of Bohemia. The Crown Prince ordered a general advance on the next day (the 29th) to the banks of the Elbe. Meantime, a fresh Austrian corps had been brought up by Benedek, as if they were all to enjoy the luxury of being beaten one after the other. The remains of the 8th and 6th Corps were withdrawn behind the fortress of Josephstadt, and the 4th Corps, under the command of General Festetics, was moved forward to Schweinschädel, a village between Skalitz and Josephstadt. Steinmetz, with his victorious 5th Corps, while marching towards Gradlitz, to unite with the Guards, who had already arrived there, found Festetics in his path. But the Austrian General, perhaps wisely, feared to injure the tottering morale of his soldiers by permitting them to engage seriously an enemy of equal or superior force; and the action at Schweinschädel was little more than a prolonged cannonade, in the course of which Festetics retreated under the guns of Josephstadt, not, however, without leaving 800 prisoners in the hands of the Prussians. Steinmetz left a brigade in front of the fortress, to observe the garrison, and with the rest of his corps moved by his right on Gradlitz, a town close to the Elbe, which he reached the same evening, finding the Guards Corps there, as already mentioned. The 6th Corps, which had marched by the pass of Nachod, in support of the 5th, arrived at Gradlitz en the 30th. The 1st Corps was on the same day at Arnau, a town on the Elbe, about twelve miles to the north-east of Gradlitz. Thus the whole of the Upper Elbe, from Arnau to near Josephstadt, was in Prussian hands within four days from the commencement of the march from Silesia. The history of war scarcely contains an instance of such important successes, gained, in so short a time, with so little loss, and in defiance of such formidable obstacles of every kind.

To crown all, a cavalry regiment sent out by Prince Frederick Charles from Gitschin, on the 30th June, fell in with the outposts of the 1st Corps near Arnau. Thus the First Army and the Army of the Elbe were brought into communication with the Army of Silesia; and the imminent peril which had existed of an attack by Benedek, in overwhelming force, upon one of these invading armies, before the other was near enough to help it, was now at an end. Military authorities are agreed in casting great blame on the generalship of Benedek. That he did not take the initiative by an advance into Saxony, was probably not his fault; but if compelled to receive the attack, it was manifestly his policy, as he knew the Prussians to be advancing on two sides, to detain one of their armies by a detachment, with orders to throw all possible difficulties in its path, while avoiding a pitched battle; but to fall upon the other with the full remaining strength of his own army, and endeavour to inflict upon it, while isolated, a crushing defeat. He appears to have manoeuvred with this object for a time; Count Clam Gallas, with one corps, was detached to detain Prince Frederick Charles; and though he did not do all that was expected from him, he at least prevented the Prussians from marching through Bohemia as if on a military promenade; meantime the rest of the Austrian army was concentrated round Josephstadt, as though for a resolute attack on the Crown Prince, when he should issue from the passes. Even on the evening of the 27th, nothing was lost; Yon Bonin had been driven back from Trautenau, and Ramming, though foiled, had sustained no serious defeat. Then was the time for Benedek to bring up, without a moment's delay, all the troops that were at his disposal, and send them, on the morning of the 28th, at the Guards at Kosteletz and the 5th Corps near Skalitz. It was in his power, according to Captain Hozier, to have massed 150,000 men against a Prussian force which could not, on that day, have been augmented above 67,000. But just at the critical moment, irresolution seized the mind of Benedek; he did indeed reinforce Ramming, but not sufficiently to turn the tide of victory, and he left the Guards at Eypel free to turn against Gablenz, and tear from him the fruits of the victory which he had won on the previous day.

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Pictures for Chapter XXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4

The Prince of Augustenburg
The Prince of Augustenburg >>>>
Battle of Langensalza
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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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