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


Operations in Western Germany - The Bavarian Army: The 8th Federal Corps: Their endeavours to effect a junction: Falkenstein interposes his Army between them - Action of Wiesenthal - Affair of Hünfeld - Combat of Hammelburg - Battle of Kissingen - Defeat of the Bavarians - Falkenstein marches against the 8th Corps - Actions of Laufach and Aschaffenburg - Italian Prisoners - Prince Alexander of Hesse evacuates Frankfort: Defenceless state of the City: Partiality of the Inhabitants towards the Austrians: Entry of the Prussians: Their brutal and arbitrary behaviour: Heavy War Contributions - Death of Herr Fischer - General Manteuffel relieves Falkenstein - Compulsory Billeting - Burgomaster Fellner commits suicide - Frankfort annexed to Prussia - The Diet at Augsburg - Close of Hostilities in Bavaria- Military Operations in Italy - Prussian Suggestions - Signor Bernhardi - Note of M. d'Usedom - Prussia desires to abet a Revolution in Hungary - Inconsistency of Count Bismarck - La Marmora's strategic plan - Italian Declaration of War - The Italians cross the Mincio - Both Armies march for the Hills near Somma Campagna: Description of the Ground - Battle of Custozza: The Austrians gain the Victory - Retreat of the Italians: They fall back behind the Oglio - Losses on both sides - Futile Operations of the Volunteers under Garibaldi- La Marmora resigns the Command - Austria recalls most of her Troops from Italy - Advance of Cialdini - The Austrians retire behind the Isonzo - Naval Operations - Admiral Persano attacks Lissa - The Austrian Fleet comes up: Battle of Lissa: Gallantry of Admiral Tegethoff: The Italian Fleet defeated with heavy loss - Outcry against Persano: He is deprived of all Command - Advance of the Prussians after Königgrätz - Benedek retreats to Olmütz - The Archduke Albrecht appointed to the Command - Popularity of Benedek with the Army - The Prussians occupy Brünn and Prague - M. Benedetti at Brünn - Combat of Tobitschau - Austria saved from ruin by French mediation- Count Bismarck's Speech in the Prussian Chambers - The Prussians move forward from Brünn - Description of General Moltke - The King of Prussia at Nikolsburg - Conclusion of an Armistice - Peace Preliminaries signed at Nikolsburg - Review of the Prussian First Army on the Marshfield: Speech of King William - The Prussian Armies return home.
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The course of events in the western portion of the theatre of war must now be briefly described. It will be remembered that, for the purpose of sudden and simultaneous operations against Hanover and Hesse Cassel, a considerable Prussian force had been collected - drawn partly from the Elbe duchies, partly from the garrisons of neighbouring fortresses - and placed under the command of General Vogel von Falkenstein. After the surrender of the Hanoverians on the 29th June, this force was concentrated about Gotha and Eisenach, and was free to act against the armies which had taken the field in the cause of Austria and the Diet farther south. Falkenstein had two separate armies in his front - the Bavarians under their Prince Charles, now numbering upwards of 50,000 sabres and bayonets, with 136 guns; and the 8th Federal Corps, composed in the manner already specified, and numbering little short of 50,000 men, with 134 guns. The head-quarters of Prince Charles were at Bamberg on the Upper Main; those of Prince Alexander of Hesse, the Commander-in-Chief of the 8th Corps, were at Frankfort. General von der Tann, destined to serve under happier auspices in a later war, was chief of the Bavarian staff. Nothing could be less satisfactory than the military condition of the 8th Corps. " The corps had not been concentrated for twenty- four years, and the divisions were totally different in uniform, administration, and organisation. The hussars of Hesse Cassel were dressed and accoutred so similarly to Prussian cavalry, that the Austrians fired upon them at Aschaffenburg. The small-arms were of different calibres. The four field-batteries of the third division were equipped on four different systems." f The 8th Corps was not fully ready to take the field till the 9th July; and this fact, and the record of its weak, dilatory, and ill-concerted movements when it did take the field, amply justified the objections raised by Prussia to the military organisation of Germany under the old Bund.

The Bavarian commander, whose right lay at Hof, appears to have contemplated, in compliance with the wishes of his Government, an advance from that town in the direction of Berlin. But, by a convention concluded between Austria and Bavaria just before the war broke out, the supreme direction of the strategical movements of all the allies of Austria had been committed to the War Office at Vienna; and the decision there taken was that the Bavarians should as soon as possible form a junction with the 8th Corps - a combination which, it was hoped, would compel the detachment of strong bodies of troops from the Prussian armies engaged with Benedek. Had this junction been effected in good time, the result would probably have agreed with the anticipations entertained at Vienna. But, from irresolution and dilatoriness on the part of both Princes in command, their forces never had the good luck to coalesce until after they had been attacked and beaten separately by the Prussians in a variety of encounters, in almost all of which they were so badly handled that their mistrust of their leaders and consequent despondency had grown to a height which was incompatible with the triumph of their arms. When it was too late, Prince Charles had acted with some vigour, with a view to the rescue of the Hanoverians; his Bavarians were led by hasty marches in the direction of Gotha; but the only result was, that they were wearied and dispirited, and faced about with the uncomfortable reflection that, had their commander brought them there twenty-four hours earlier, the Hanoverians might have been saved. Prince Alexander, though placed under the orders of Prince Charles, acted at first independently. He seems to have meditated a diversion upon Cassel, partly to reinstate the Elector, partly to compel Falkenstein to weaken his army. With these objects in view, he broke up from Frankfort on the 30th June, and marched northwards in the direction of Alsfeld. On the evening of the same day, Princo Charles, whether under pressure from Vienna, or because he foresaw that the Prussians at Eisenach, after the Hanoverians had been disposed of, would not long remain inactive, issued orders for a concentrative movement, in pursuance of which both corps should seek to unite at Fulda. Between Fulda and the Federals lay the barren ranges of the Vogels Berg; between the same point and the Bavarians rose the huge mass of the Hohe Rhön. Prince Alexander, on receiving the order, instead of continuing his march towards Cassel, directed his divisions, which were then about Wetzlar and Giessen, to wheel to the right, so as to make for Fulda round the northern end of the Vogels Berg. But, instead of throwing that energy into the movement which the circumstances required, Prince Alexander made but slow progress, and remained inactive during the whole of the 4th July at the little village of Ulrichstein, on the northern outlets of the Vogels Berg. On that same day the Bavarians had come in contact with the Prussians, and had got the worst of the combat; for Falkenstein, at Eisenach, having ascertained from his scouts the position both of the Bavarians and of the 8th Corps, resolved upon driving his army between them like a wedge, in order to prevent their meeting. He therefore pushed forward Göben and Manteuffel to Gerza, on the road to Fulda, with orders to move thence by their left across the lower slopes of the Rhön, and attack the Bavarians, whom he had ascertained to be in force at Wiesenthal. On the morning of the 4th the attack was made; and although the Bavarians fought well, the result was that they were pushed back from Wiesenthal to the eastward, and so stopped from pursuing their march in this direction, to effect a union with the 8th Corps. An unfortunate circumstance which occurred on the same day at Hünfeld raised additional difficulties in the way of that movement. Two squadrons of Bavarian cavalry, with two guns, forming part of the advanced guard of the army of Prince Charles, had reached Hünfeld, a village on the great road between Fulda and Eisenach, only about ten miles from the former town. General Beyer, advancing with the remaining division of the Prussians towards Fulda, found the Bavarian cavalry in position; their guns opened fire. The first shot so surprised the Bavarians, who had not anticipated that there was artillery with the Prussian advance, that the cuirassiers reined about, and sought safety in a wild flight. They left one of their guns, which in their panic they had not waited to limber up. It is said that these cuirassiers, who had been pushed forward in order to open communications between the Bavarians and the Federals, were so dismayed by one well-aimed cannon-shot, that they continued their headlong flight far to the south of Fulda, spreading consternation wherever they came, and many of them did not draw rein until they had found shelter within the gates of Würzburg. Prince Alexander, on his side, on hearing of the disasters which had befallen the Bavarians, hastily wheeled round, and marched his army back to Frankfort. Thus the object of the Prussian advance was completely attained. On the 5th July, the Bavarians and the 8tli Federal Corps were separated from each other by only thirty miles; on the 7th, seventy miles of country lay between them.

Falkenstein now concentrated his troops at Fulda, and considered where he should strike the next blow. To. march upon Frankfort, between which and his army lay the difficult defile of Geluhausen, in passing which he would be exposed to attacks from the Bavarians on his left flank, appeared too hazardous. He resolved, therefore, to strike heavily at the Bavarians again. Prince Charles had his army now posted along the line of the Saale (not the well-known river of that name, but another, called the Franconian Saale, which runs into the Main at Gmünden), and he held Kissingen strongly, and also occupied the village of Hammelburg, a village a few miles lower down the river. But his troops were too much scattered, and his information of the movements of the Prussians appears to have been very imperfect, so that, when the critical moment came, the rest of the army was too far from the troops defending Kissingen and Hammelburg to give them effectual support. On the 10th July, General Beyer was sent against Hammelburg, and, after a bloody contest, drove out the Bavarians, the town being set on fire in the melée. and gained the passage of the Saale. On the same day the main body of Falkenstein's army was heavily engaged with the Bavarians at the celebrated watering-place of Kissingen. The inhabitants had been alarmed some days before by the sight of a party of Bavarian troopers, fleeing through their town from the scene of their disgraceful panic at Hünfeld; but the Burgomaster had given his word that every one should have twenty-four hours' notice of the approach of the Prussians, and the numerous visitors and invalids were reassured. Even on the 8th July, Bavarian staff-officers might be seen sauntering about the Kurgarten as tranquilly as if in a time of profound peace. But on the 9th it became known that the inhabitants of the Villages to the west of the liver were fleeing from their houses before the Prussians; a large force of Bavarians was brought into the town; and now it was too late for the visitors to take their departure, for all the avenues were closely guarded, in order that no one might carry intelligence to the Prussians concerning the dispositions for the defence. The bridges over the Saale - except the stone bridge, which was strongly barricaded - were destroyed; but the supports of one of the iron bridges below the town were left, and of this inadvertence the Prussians skilfully availed themselves. Five battalions occupied the town, supported by only twelve guns; an inexcusable negligence on the part of Prince Charles, who had a hundred and twenty pieces of artillery at his command, but had dispersed them at different points along the river between Kissingen and Hammelburg, so that most of them were of no use when they were wanted. Early on the morning of the 10th, the Prussians might be seen approaching along the roads which cross the plateau west of the town; the brigades of Kummer and Wrangel were in advance. When they came within range, the Bavarian guns opened upon them, and from the houses of the town a biting fire was kept up by the soldiers who occupied them; so that for a long time the battle was stationary. Wrangel at last brought up some guns to the Alten Berg, a hill nearly opposite the southern portion of the town, but commanded from the Finster Berg, on the town side of the river, where, however, owing to the paucity of artillery, no guns had been posted. Protected b}r the fire of the guns on the Alten Berg, some Prussian infantry, led by a Captain von Busche, collected planks, tables, and anything that would serve for a temporary bridge, from the houses near the river, and succeeded in patching up the bridge of which the supports had been left sufficiently for troops to pass over, one or two at a time. A whole battalion having thus crossed to the Kissingen side, the passage of the stone bridge, on the defences of which an overpowering fire of artillery and musketry was opened, was at length forced, and the Prussians advanced into the town. But the Bavarian light infantry fought hard, and, while suffering heavily themselves, inflicted grievous loss on the Prussians. Three times did Wrangel's men force their way into the Kurgarten, and thrice did the riflemen holding it drive them back. A fourth assault succeeded; but not till the young lieutenant who commanded the Bavarians, with all his men, refusing quarter, had fallen on the places where they stood. At a little after three the whole town was carried. But although worsted, the Bavarians did not renounce the contest. Prince Charles brought up strong reinforcements from the encampments eastward of the town, and pressed fiercely on Wrangel as he endeavoured to deploy on either side of the road leading out to Winkels. The Prussians were brought to a stand - at one time even retreated - but fresh troops were brought up, and by nightfall, though at a heavy cost, the Bavarians were beaten back, and Prince Charles sullenly relinquished the strife.

When Prince Alexander turned to retreat on the 5th July, he might still have united with the 7th Corps (the Bavarians) by a flank march to Brückenau, and so- been able to lend them a helping hand at Kissingen; but he appears to have considered the risk too great. He retired to Frankfort therefore, and on the 9th July concentrated his troops round that town. But the Prussians- did not long leave him unmolested. On the day after the battle of Kissingen, July 11, General von Falkenstein dispatched General Göben against Frankfort, by way of Gmlinden and Aschaffenburg; and about the same time he ordered General Beyer to march by the direct road from Fulda, through the defile of Gelnhausen, upon Hanau. These movements brought the Prussians for the first time into collision with the 8th Corps, a force, it will be remembered, little inferior in numbers to that which Falkenstein commanded. But the resistance which it offered to the Prussian advance was feeble and unskilful to the last degree; and the march of both Prussian columns upon Frankfort could scarcely have been easier, and attended with less peril to life, if a single regiment, instead of an army, had opposed them. General Beyer marched by Gelnhausen on Hanau, and thence to Frankfort, without meeting any opposition whatever, although the defile of the Kinzig presented an impediment which an energetic enemy could have rendered almost insurmountable. Göben encountered no opposition till he had reached the village of Laufach, between Gmünden and Aschaffenburg. Here was posted a force of 8,000 men, the troops of Hesse Darmstadt. These (July 13) attacked the Prussians with the greatest gallantry; but such was the ignorance of their officers, and the inexperience of the men themselves, that, after being exposed in masses to the deadly volleys, of the needle- gun for some time, they were obliged to retreat in disorder, with a loss of 500 in killed and wounded, and 100 prisoners. The Prussian loss on this occasion did not exceed twenty men. Göben pushed on the next day to Ascliaffenburg, defeated there (July 14) the Austrian brigade under Count Neipperg, which was attached to the 8th Corps, and drove it southward, with a loss of nearly 2,000 prisoners, besides many killed and wounded. The prisoners were nearly all Italians, who must have known that the Emperor of Austria had already ceded Venetia, their native country, to the French Emperor, that it might be transferred to Italy, and may naturally have felt little disposed to shed their blood in a quarrel with which they were now less concerned than ever. The amazed Prussians, upon forcing their way into the streets of Aschaffenburg, heard themselves greeted with shouts of " Ewiva l'ltalia!" " Ewiva la Prussia;" and 1,500 Trevisan soldiers, belonging to the Austrian regiment " Bernhard," allowed themselves to be taken by Göben's Westphalians before the Main bridge. While the battle was raging at Aschaffenburg, Prince Alexander remained inactive with the mass of his army at Seligenstadt, a place some three miles distant. Helpless and hopeless, he saw the passage of the Main at Aschaffenburg wrested from him, and felt that he could no longer defend Frankfort. He accordingly evacuated that city on the 15th, and on the next day the main body of the 8th Corps was in full march through the Odenwald, on its way to join the Bavarians near Würzburg.

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

Marshal von Wrangel
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Venice
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The Archduke Albrecht
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Peshiera
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Prague
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