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Chapter XXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 6

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 <6>

The King's order to march forward at daybreak with all his available forces reached the Crown Prince at four o'clock on the morning of the 3rd July, and he immediately made the necessary dispositions. The 1st Corps was ordered to advance on the right, the Guards in the centre, and the 6th Corps on the left. The 5th Corps was to move forward two hours after the 6th, and form the reserve of the entire army. The trains and baggage of the army were to be left in their old positions. The Crown Prince, after witnessing the passage of the Elbe at Königinhof by a portion of the Guards, hastened forward with his staff to place himself at the head of the column. It was with difficulty that the guns could be dragged up the miry slippery road which led from the bank of the Elbe up to the plateau of Daubrowitz. Pushing forward as rapidly as the state of the roads would permit, the Crown Prince, with the main body of the first division of the Guards, arrived soon after eleven at the edge of the elevated ground about Choteborek. A wide depression about two miles across, through the middle of which ran the stream of the Trotina, carried the eye to a group of hills to the south of it, along the western edge of which a great battle was evidently raging. For from this point the eye swept the valley of the Bistritz for several miles, and could note the flashes of the guns that were firing from opposite sides of it, and the smoke and flame from the burning villages; the sound of the cannonade did not reach, for the wind blew towards the battle-field. Near the village of Horenowes, between three and four miles from where the Crown Prince stood, there was a hill crowned by a solitary tree; and it was evident, that by pressing forward in this direction, the Guards would come in on the right flank, or partly in rear, of the troops that were fighting with the First Army. But as the ground was open all the way, and the draught difficult for the guns across the soft ground of the depression, the Crown Prince gave orders that the division should break up into regiments, which should separately and in extended order make for the tree on the Horenowes Hill. To the left, the 6th Corps, under General Mutius, was just getting into action, attacking Racitz, a village where several roads converge to cross the Trotina. It was this movement which was reported to Benedek, as above related. The Austrians, who had hitherto been firing only from the west of Horenowes Hill, now brought up a number of guns to its northern side; forty pieces were soon ready to fire on the Guards as they approached, and the first shell was discharged at ten minutes before noon. Meantime, the division of Franzecky had been so cut up as to stand in great need of assistance, and on this being reported to General Mutius he sent four batteries, covered by a regiment of hussars, across the Trotina at Luzan, which, at half-past eleven, opened upon the Austrian artillery at Horenowes. With the rest of the 6th Corps he marched upon Racitz at the same time that the Guards were moving against Horenowes. At neither place did the Austrians make a stubborn resistance, but abandoned them by one o'clock, and fell back on the villages of Maslowed and Sendrasitz. The Guards pressed on; and now occurred that extraordinary event which decided the battle, and which has never yet been adequately explained.

The hill on which stood the church of Chlum rose considerably above the general level of the field of battle. In the heat of the battle, an observer stationed near Sadowa could see the spire of Chlum rising into the clear air, above the curtain of mist and smoke which shrouded the intervening country from his view. An officer stationed on the church tower could have discerned the approach of the Crown Prince when he was still miles away; yet it does not appear that the thought of making this use of the tower occurred to Benedek, or to any one else. In a general order, printed by Captain Hozier, which the Marshal is said to have sent round to the different corps on the night of the 2nd instant, the defence of the hills of Chlum and Lipa is assigned to the 3rd Corps. Batteries, facing westward, were planted on the top of the hill; yet it is certain that, notwithstanding Benedek's order, and although simple common sense would have dictated that so commanding a point should be very strongly held, the hill of Chlum, between two and three o'clock in the day, was almost destitute of defenders. Forty thousand men were massed in reserve below the northern slope of the hill, but the hill itself was, it may almost be said, abandoned to the Prussians. The statement seems incredible; yet, in the absence of fuller information from Austrian sources, the accounts of the battle that have hitherto appeared compel us to this conclusion. How the Prussian Guards, after having pushed back the Austrian troops who opposed them from Horenowes to Maslowed, were allowed to march, unchallenged and unmolested, the 2,000 paces which still separated them from Chlum, Captain Hozier has satisfactorily explained. " It seems," he says, " that the 4th Corps, to whom the defence of the ground between Maslowed and Nedelitz was entrusted, seeing their comrades heavily engaged with Franzecky in the Maslowed wood, turned to their aid, and, pressing forward towards Benatek, quitted their proper ground. A short time afterwards, the 2nd Austrian Corps was defeated by the Prussian eleventh division, and retreated towards its bridge at Lochenitz. The advance of the 4th Corps, and the retreat of the 2nd, left a clear gap in the Austrian line, through which the Prussian Guards marched unmolested, and without a shot seized the key of the position." Still, however, the circumstance that Chlum itself was denuded of troops remains wrapped in mystery.

While the main body of the Prussian Guards mounted the hill to Chlum, one regiment moved to the left and occupied Rosberitz. The first Prussians arrived at Chlum at a quarter before three, and saw beneath them, between the hill where they stood and the fortress of Königgrätz, the serried lines of the Austrian reserves, numbering about 40,000 men. A few minutes later, Benedek, who was between Chlum and Lipa, was informed that the Prussians had seized the former village. He refused at first to credit it, and hastened to the spot, but was received with a volley which brought down some of his staff, and convinced him that the report was only too true. He at once took measures in order to bring up troops to retake the hill. The Prussians who had seized Rosberitz were driven out of it with heavy loss, but no efforts that Benedek could induce his troops to make availed to regain the hill of Chlum, against the combined advantages of a strong position and superior weapons. Three times did the Austrians charge up the hill, twice they almost reached the churchyard, but were received within a few paces by a withering and rapid fire, under which hardly any troops could have lived. The third and final attack was repelled, and then the battle was won. The 1st and the 5th Corps were coming rapidly into action, bringing a reserve of 50,000 fresh soldiers into the heart of Benedek's position. The unfortunate General saw that all was lost, and is said to have eagerly sought death by exposing himself recklessly to the rain of bullets. The second division of the Guards marched against the wood of Lipa, seeing which, the whole First Army rose up, and with loud shouts rushed across the stream and up the blood-stained slope. Arrived at the top of it, they saw the whole hollow ground between them and Rosnitz covered with running white uniforms. They opened fire with fatal effect on the fugitives, and the artillery of the 6th Corps, which had made great progress in the left attack, raked their flank; yet the Austrians kept their formation, and the retreat never became a rout. Their numerous cavalry now did splendid service in arresting the pursuit, and engaging, often with brilliant success, the Prussian cavalry regiments which were harassing the discomfited and flying infantry. The Austrian field artillery was also admirably bandied, un- limbering upon every rising ground, and pouring shells into the pursuers, so as to gain time for the retreating columns. Most of the guns, however, which had been placed in batteries, were lost, the carriages having been purposely sent away out of fire before the battle began, and so being out of reach when the occupation of the central point of Chlum brought the battle to a sudden termination. In spite of the self-devotion of the cavalry and artillery, large numbers of prisoners were taken, for the long summer day favoured the work of slaughter and rout, and the pursuit was continued nearly to the banks of the Elbe. Fortunately for the Austrians, several bridges had been laid down by Benedek's orders across the river between Königgrätz and Pardubitz; and by these the infantry got beyond the stream by night-fall without severe loss; the cavalry retired to Pardubitz. It was not before nine o'clock that all firing ceased, though the main body of the Prussian army halted about seven. All night long the Krankenträger (literally, " sick- bearers ") were engaged in collecting the wounded men, both friend and foe, from all parts of the field; and the task was not accomplished till late the next morning.

The Austrian and Saxon troops engaged in this great battle amounted, according to the computation of Captain Hozier, to about 200,000 men, with 600 guns; and the Prussian army to 260,000 combatants, with 816 guns. Colonel Rustow's estimate is widely different; he speaks of Benedek's army as having been more than twice as numerous as the First Army and the Army of the Elbe put together. But the ardent Prussian partialities of this writer appear to have grievously misled him; for, before hostilities commenced, the three Prussian armies are estimated by Captain Hozier to have considerably exceeded the united force of Austria and Saxony; and the heavy losses since sustained, particularly in prisoners and deserters, must have yet further reduced the Austrian army by at least 30,000 men.

The defeat of Königgrätz was a crushing and ruinous disaster, which even a greater nation than Austria would have found it impossible to retrieve. A hundred and seventy-four guns, twenty thousand prisoners, and eleven standards, fell into the hands of the victors, while the loss in killed and wounded amounted also to nearly 20,000. The loss of the Prussians was under 10,000 men, the highest proportionate loss falling on the division of Franzecky which fought in front of Benatek.

Field-Marshal Gablenz came to Horitz the day after the battle, deputed by the Emperor to seek an interview with the King of Prussia, and endeavour to obtain an armistice as a preliminary to peace. But it was considered at the Prussian head-quarters that as the Austrian army still kept the field, a pause in the military operations would give Austria too great an advantage, by enabling her to bring up troops from the Italian frontier; moreover, the treaty with Italy was held to preclude Prussia from separate action. The proposal for an armistice was therefore rejected, and the Austrian General returned to his own lines without having obtained an interview with the King.

The Emperor, seeing his capital threatened, and the empire menaced with dissolution, determined to rid himself of one enemy by removing the ground of dispute. He accordingly ceded Venetia to the Emperor of the French, with the understanding that it was to be transferred to the King of Italy at the conclusion of the war. Napoleon accepted the cession, and from that time was unremitting in his endeavours to bring hostilities to a termination.

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Pictures for Chapter XXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 6

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