Battle of Laufach, 13 July 1866

The battle of Laufach (13 July 1866) was a Prussian victory over German Federal troops who were trying to defend the exits from the Spessart Mountains and prevent the Prussians from approaching Frankfurt (Austro-Prussian War of 1866).

At the start of the war the Prussians faced two opponents in south-western Germany, the Federal 8th Corps around Frankfurt and the Bavarian Army (or Federal 7th Corps) at Bamburg. The 8th Corps was commanded by Prince Alexander of Hesse, the Bavarian Army by Prince Charles of Bavaria, who also had overall command of the two corps. The Prussians, under General Falckenstein, began the German campaign further north, in an attempt to eliminate the Hanoverian Army before it escape to the south. In an attempt to help the Hanoverians the Bavarians and 8th Corps decided to move north and concentrate somewhere near the Hanoverian's expected destination of Eisenach. In order to avoid leaving their respective bases vulnerable to attack, the two corps moved on different lines, separated by the Hohn Rhön Mountains. They originally intended to join up at Hersfeld. However on 29 June the Hanoverians surrendered, and this plan was no longer valid. Prince Charles wanted to abandon the move north, and unite the two corps at Kissingen, on the south-east side of the mountains, but Prince Alexander insisted on moving north. The two commanders agreed to join up at Fulda, to the north-west of the mountains.

Throughout this campaign the Prussians moved quicker than their German opponents. On 3 July they occupied Dermbach, a key position at the northern end of the mountains. On the following day the Bavarians were defeated in two separate engagements, east and south of the town (battle of Dermbach, 4 July 1866). It was now clear that the two corps couldn't meet up at Fulda, which soon fell to the Prussians. The 8th Corps began to retreat south-west back towards Frankfurt, while the Bavarians moved south, in the hope that they could defend the line of the River Saale. On 6 July news reached both Princes of the crushing Austrian defeat at Königgrätz. It was clear that the war could no longer be won, and both corps began to focus on the defence of their homelands.

Once again the Prussians moved quicker than expected. After the fighting at Dermbach they moved south-west to Fulda, as if they were chasing the 8th Corps. They then swung left and crossed the Hohn Rhön. On 10 July they defeated the Bavarians in two separate battles, at Kissingen and Hammelburg. The Bavarians retreated south and east in some confusion, temporarily baffling the Prussians. The Bavarians were saved from further defeats, at least for the moment, by events elsewhere. It was clear that peace negotiations would soon begin with Austria, and so Falckenstein was ordered to turn west and occupy the area north of the River Main, including Frankfurt, the capital of the German Confederation.

His route took him across the Spessart, a low range of wooded mountains at the southern end of the Hohn Rhön. The Prussians advanced along two routes. Goeben's Division was in the lead, following the road that led from Lohr on the Main across the mountains to Laufach and then Aschaffenburg. Manteuffel's Divison used the same route, but was some way behind Goeben. Finally Beyer's Division followed a more northerly route that emerged from the mountains at Hanau. At least in theory this left Goeben's division isolated and vulnerable if the 8th Corps concentrated against it.

The Bavarian defeats on the Saale had finally convinced Prince Alexander that the defence of Frankfurt was less important than joining up with the Bavarians. He decided to move south-east from Frankfurt to move around the southern end of the Spessart. The Hessian Brigade was ordered to move to Laufach to watch the Prussians and protect the left flank of the main movement.

The first contact between Goeben's men and the Hessians came at about 2pm, as the leading Prussian infantry, from Wrangel's Brigade, were approaching the village of Hayn, about a mile east of Laufach. At the time General Goeben was with the squadron from the 8th Hussars that found part of Frey's Hessian Brigade east of Laufach. The Hussars had to pause until the first Prussian infantry emerged from the railway tunnel east of Hayn. The Prussians drove the Hessians out of Laufach, then pushed west to Frohnhofen and finally to Weiberhöfe, three miles to the west of Laufach.

At this point Goeben believed the fight to be over. He ordered his main body to camp at Laufach, with a fusilier battalion watching the Hessians from Frohnhofen.

Although General von Perglas, commander of the Hessian Division, had been ordered to avoid serious conflict, he now decided to launch a counterattack on the Prussian positions. His preparations were detected by Lt Colonel von Rex, commander of the battalion at Frohnhofen, and he alerted Wrangel, who rushed his troops back to the front.

The Hessians managed to get an artillery battery onto the Geissen Berg, a hill overlooking Frohnhofen. Their attack began with an artillery bombardment, and the infantry then attacked on both sides of the road. Wrangel had to feed all off his reserves into the fight, but the Hessian attacks were all repulsed. The Prussians then moved up a battery of 12-pounder guns, and with their support launched a counterattack. The Hessians retreated back towards Aschaffenburg, having suffered rather pointless heavy losses.

The Prussians lost 66 men in the fighting around Laufach. In contrast the Hessians lost 79 dead and 384 wounded, out of a total of 777 casualties.

Late on 13 July Prince Alexander received new orders. He was to move south across the Odenwald, south/ south-east of Frankfurt, then turn east to reach Miltenberg on the Main. The two Federal corps would then unite at Uffenheim, south-east of Würzburg. This plan only lasted for a single day. On 14 July the Prussians won another battle, this time at Aschaffenburg (14 July 1866). This forced Prince Alexander to use a longer route, starting with the railway that ran through Darmstadt. The 8th Corp eventually ended up on the River Tauber, south of the Main, with the Bavarians close by to the north east.

This was only a temporary escape. The Prussians paused to occupy Frankfurt, which fell on 16 July. They then advanced south-east along the Main, before catching up with the 8th Corps on the Tauber. The Prussians defeated them there on 24 July (Battle of Tauberbischofsheim), then advanced towards Würzburg. On 25 July they inflicted separate defeats on the allies at Helmstadt and Gerchsheim, but by now the war was drawing to an end. There was more fighting around Rossbrun on 26 July, but things then began to die down. Würzburg surrendered on 2 August, just before a formal truce came into effect, ending the war.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (24 September 2015), Battle of Laufach, 13 July 1866 ,

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