Battle of Kissingen, 10 July 1866

The battle of Kissingen (10 July 1866) was the bigger of two battles lost by the Bavarians on the same day in the aftermath of their failure to unite with their German allies (Austro-Prussian War, 1866).

At the start of the war the Prussians had faced three opponents in western Germany. In the north was the army of Hanover, which was attempting to move south to join its allies. The 8th Federal Corps, made up of troops from several smaller states with an Austrian brigade, was at Frankfurt. The Bavarian Army (7th Federal Corps) was further east, at Bamburg.

The Prussians allocated three divisions to the campaign in Germany, under General Falckenstein. He was ordered to concentrate his efforts against the Hanoverians first. Although the Hanoverians did win the only battle of that campaign (battle of Langensalza (27 June 1866)), they were already surrounded by this point, and surrendered on 29 June.

Their southern allies had only just decided how to help them when the Hanoverians surrendered. Instead of uniting their two armies somewhere in the south and then moving north, the two corps decided to unite at Hersfeld, south of Cassel and west of Eisenach, which had been the Hanoverian target. The two corps moved north on opposite sides of the Hohe Rhön Mountains, with the Bavarians moving rather more quickly than the 8th Corps.

The Hanoverian surrender meant that the plan to unite at Hersfeld was no longer valid. The allies decided to join up at Fulda, twenty miles south-east of their original destination. This required the Bavarians to move through the mountains, with one division moving around their northern edge to shield the main force. This division ran into the Prussians on 3 July, and on the following day was defeated in two separate engagements (battle of Dermbach, 4 July 1866).

It was now clear that the two Allied forces wouldn't be able to join up at Fulda. They still hoped to unite somewhere in the south, but for the moment began to retreat away from each other. The 8th Corps moved back down the road to Frankfurt, while the Bavarians moved south around the mountains. They hoped to be able to defend the line of the Saale River, and expected to have at least until 11 July to prepare their new position.

This rather underestimated the Prussians. Falckenstein decided to move south through Fulda, as if he was moving against the 8th Corps, but then turn left, cross the mountains and hit the Bavarians in the flanks. By the end of 9 July his three divisions were concentrated around Brückenau, in the middle of the mountains. In contrast the Bavarians were spread out along a 22 mile front. Zoller's division was to the left, with one brigade at Hammelburg and another at Kissingen. General Goeben's division was sent towards Kissingen.

Kissingen was a spa resort town, located on the eastern banks of the Saale. At this point the Saale ran from north to south, with hills on either side. The Prussians were crossing the mountains on a road that brought them into the valley though the village of Garitz, opposite the town. Garitz was slightly to the south of the town, so the Prussian advance would bring them up against the Bavarian left.

Three bridges crossed the river at the town. In the south was an iron bridge with a wooden walkway. The Bavarians had removed the planks, but the structure was intact. In the centre was the main stone bridge, which was protected by a strong barricade and two guns. In the north was a wooden bridge that had been very badly damaged by the Bavarians. The town was defended by the 5th Brigade (General Ribeaupierre) from Zoller's Division. Hartmann's, Feder's and Stephan's divisions were close enough to be able to provide help if they moved quickly enough.

As Goeben approached the Saale his scouts discovered the Bavarian position at Kissingen. Goeben decided to send his leading brigade, under General Kummer, to capture Garitz. Wrangel's Brigad and the reserve followed.

At 10am Kummer's men found Garitz was only lightly defended, and advanced into the village. The Bavarians retreated back to the suburbs of Kissingen west of the Saale. Kummer formed up to attack in two lines, with the 53rd Regiment in front. This regiment was able to expel the Bavarians from the suburbs, and they retreated back across the bridge into the main town. However they were unable to make any more progress, and for the moment Kummer's brigade stalled in front of the heavily defended stone bridge.

Goeben now sent Wrangel's brigade to clear the Bavarians off the Altenberg, a significant hill between Garitz and the Saale, and which overlooking the right wing of Kummer's brigade. The last few Bavarians were quickly cleared off this hill. The 2nd Company, 15th Regiment, from Wrangel's brigade then found another bridge that crossed the river south-east of the hill. This bridge had also been badly damaged, but the Prussians managed to repair it enough for it to be crossed in single file. The 2nd Company crossed the bridge and established a foothold across the Saale. They were followed by the rest of their regiment, and the Prussians established a line across the main road south of Kissingen. The Prussians fed reinforcements across the river, starting with the 1st and 2nd Companies of the Lippe Fusiliers, then the 1st Battalion, 55th Regiment and 1st Battalion, 15th Regiments. This force then attacked the town from the south, and was soon engaged in street fighting.

This attack reduced the amount of firepower available to defend the main town bridges. The 3rd Company of the Lippe Fusiliers were first across, making their way over the remains of the iron bridge. This brought them into the gardens of the baths. The fusilier battalion of the 53rd Regiment emulated them at the main stone bridge, and the Prussians forced the Bavarians out of the town. The Bavarians made a last stand in the church, which is on a hill east of the town, before withdrawing to a new position on the heights of Winkels, a little further east. By now some troops from Feder's Dvision had begun to arrive to reinforce the Bavarians. 

General Goeben decided that he had a chance to push the Bavarians further back before they could get established in this new position. He moved his fresh 19th Regiment through Kummer's resting men. Kummer then led them in an attack on the heights. The Bavarians were forced back yet again, this time into Nüdlingen village, which sits in a side valley. Finally, at around 4pm, the Bavarians were forced out of Nüdlingen. During this phase of the battle General Zoller was killed by a shell fragment. The Prussians didn’t occupy Nüdlingen, but instead prepared to camp on the heights above the village.

By this point Prince Charles of Bavaria, commander of the Bavarian Army, had reached the scene. He sent orders to Generals Hartmann and Stephan to move towards Kissingen in order to counterattack. Hartmann misinterpreted his instructions, and ended up moving towards Schweinfurt, but Stephan understood his, and his division arrived in the early evening.

At about 6.30pm the Bavarians attacked the Prussian left, on the Sinnberg, a hill north of Winkels. The Prussian 19th Regiment was overwhelmed and forced to retreat. General Wrangel had already ordered reinforcements to move to the front, and then moved up to Winkels himself. He also sent a message to General Goeben asking for more reinforcements. Soon afterwards his horse was killed under him, rolled on top of him and knocked him out. Colonel Stoltz, commander of the 55th Regiment, took over and conducted a skilful fighting retreat, which slowed the Bavarian advance, but the Prussians were unable to hold onto the high ground to the north and east of Winkels.

General Wrangel came around to find his forces in slow retreat, and a message from General Goeben refusing his request for reinforcements. He decided that his best chance of success was a counterattack, and he launched most of his available troops in a costly assault on the hills. The Bavarians were forced back by the attack, and retreated back into Nüdlingen.

The Bavarians had also suffered a defeat at Hammelburg. In the aftermath of these two defeats they retreated south towards Schweinfurt and Würzburg. The Prussians followed on 11 July, but at 1pm General Falckenstein received an order to turn west and occupy Frankfurt and the area north of the River Main, so that it would be in Prussian hands during the peace negotiations.

The fighting around Kissingen cost both sides heavy casualties. The Prussians lost 143 dead, 698 wounded and 58 missing. The Bavarians lost 93 dead, 573 wounded and 555 missing or prisoner.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (24 September 2015), Battle of Kissingen, 10 July 1866 ,

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