Battle of Nachod, 27 June 1866

The battle of Nachod (27 June 1866) saw the Prussians defeat a series of Austrian attacks aimed at recapturing a key position in the Bohemian mountains that had been abandoned without a fight on the previous day.

Battles of the Austro-Prussian War 1866: Bohemian Front
Battles of the
Austro-Prussian War 1866:
Bohemian Front

The Prussian invasion of Bohemia was carried out by three armies. Two of these, the Army of the Elbe and the Prussian 1st Army, attacked into north-western Bohemia from the direction of Saxony. The third army, the Prussian 2nd Army under Crown Prince Frederick William) had the most difficult task, crossing the mountains through three narrow passes, at some distance from the other two Prussian armies and dangerously close to the main Austrian concentration at Josephstadt.

The most exposed of the Crown Prince's columns was his V Corps (General von Steinmetz), which made up the left flank of the 2nd Army. Steinmetz's route took him from Glatz and Reichenstern towards Nachod. There were plenty of possible bottlenecks on this route, in particular in the approaches to Nachod, where the road ran through a narrow valley for five miles, crossed the River Mettau, and ran through the town of Nachod. Any one of these places would have been a good position for a defensive battle, but the Austrians failed to take advantage of any of them.

On the afternoon of 26 June the leading troops from the Prussian V Corps reached Nachod. They found a few Austrian troops in the town, but they quickly retreated when General von Löwenfeld, commander of the Prussian 9th Division, reached the town with a few troops. The Austrians then missed a chance to counterattack while the Prussian advance guard was isolated - the main part of the V Corps camped at Reinerz, five miles to the east, on the night of 26-27 June.

The Austrians did have troops in the area. General Ramming's 6th Corps had reached Skalitz, west of Nachod. On the morning of 27 June Ramming reached Skalitz at about 8.15am, then led his troops east towards Nachod. The Austrians had intended to defend the passes, but as so often in this campaign had simply moved too slowly. In this case they left Skalitz too late and moved too slowly, missing a chance to take up a position on edge of the plateau, which would have been a good defensive position for them.

The Prussians hadn't been idle overnight. Steinmetz's main body began to move at 5am, and he reached Nachod at about 8am. At Nachod General Löwenfeld moved his troops onto the edge of a plateau south-west of the town, with the village of Wysokow downhill to the north-west.

At around 10am the Prussian advance guard came under heavy fire from Austrian artillery, and found two regiments of Cuirassiers drawn up across the road. Further back two infantry brigades were approaching, with a third further back in reserve. Löwenfeld's infantry took up a defensive position in woods near the road, where they came under heavy Austrian pressure. The Prussian position was potentially very dangerous - if the advance guard had been defeated it could have caused chaos in the narrow defile. 

Some sources record the battle starting with a Prussian cavalry charge. A small force of Prussian cavalry charged the centre of the highly regarded Austrian cuirassiers and despite being outnumbered broke through their line. The Prussians then came under heavy pressure as the Austrians surrounded them, but were able to disengage.

The first Austrian infantry attack was carried out by Hertwick's Brigade. This reached the front at around 7.30, and occupied Wenzelsberg, south-west of the Prussian line. About an hour of musketry followed, before Hertwick launched an attack. The advancing Austrians were hit in the flank by the 2nd Battalion, Prussian 37th Regiment, which had advanced south down the road to Neustadt. The leading Austrians troops were forced back onto the main body, which then launched its own attack. This attack was repulsed by the Prussian 58th Regiment.

At around 9am Jonak's brigade formed up at Domkow, a little to the south-west of Hertwick's position. Rosenzweig's Brigade took up a position just behind Jonak. The Austrian left was made up of Prince Solms' Cavalry Brigade, followed by Waldstatten's Brigade, the reserve artillery and a final cavalry brigade. By 11am the entire Austrian corps was on the field.

The Prussians now came under very heavy pressure. The only reinforcements that had arrived at this point were von Wnuck's Combined Cavalry Brigade, while was placed on the Prussian right, facing the Austrian cavalry.

The Austrians launched a larger attack east of Wenzelsberg, with Jonak on the right and Rosenzweig on the left. This attack forced the Prussian Jägers to abandon their position in the woods and cross to the east of the Neustadt Road, while the 58th Regiment was pushed back to the very edge of the plateau. This was the high point of Austrian success, but Wenzelsberg's attack now bogged down.

By noon the Prussian artillery and the main body of the infantry were beginning to enter the battle. The Austrians still posed a major threat, especially on the Prussian right, where Solms' cavalry brigade (Kaiser Ferdinand and Hessen Cuirassier Regiments) threatened to outflank them. The Crown Prince, who was now present on the battlefield, ordered the Prussian cavalry to attack. The 8th Dragoons and 1st Uhlan Regiment from Wnuck's Brigade attacked the highly regarded Austrian cavalry, and defeated them. After a fierce melee the Austrian cavalry began to retreat, with the Uhlans in pursuit.

The Prussian 37th Regiment decided to take advantage of this victory to occupy Wysokow. Wnuck assumed they were Austrians and broke off the pursuit. The Prussian cavalry then attacked the retreating Austrian infantry in the centre of the field.

By now two further Prussian divisions had emerged from the defile. General Steinmetz decided to launch an attack. This saw the 10th Division attack the left wing of Rosezeig's brigade and secure Prussian control of Wysokow.

At about 1pm two Austrian battalions (Waldstätten's Brigade) attacked the woods between Wysokow and Wenzelsberg. This attack was repulsed. The Austrian cavalry made a final appearance but was also driven off. By 3pm General Ramming realised that his attack had failed, and he ordered a full retreat.

Steinmetz didn't press the retreating Austrians very heavily. His infantry was too tired for a vigorous pursuit, and the Austrians were able to take up a new position at Skalitz. Overnight the Archduke Leopold's fresh 8th Corp took over from Ramming's defeatied 6th Corps. On the following day the Prussian attacked the new Austrian position, and inflicted a second defeat on them (battle of Skalitz), securing their position on the Bohemia side of the mountains.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (10 July 2015), Battle of Nachod, 27 June 1866 ,

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