Austro-Prussian/ Seven Weeks War, June-August 1866

Germany in 1866

The German Campaign
The Hanoverian Phase
The Bavarian and Federal Phase

The Saxon and Austrian Campaigns
26 June
27 June
28 June
29 June
30 June
1 July
2 July
3 July
The Advance to the Danube

Peace Talks and the End of the War


The Austro-Prussian or Seven Weeks War of 1866 was the second of three wars that led to German unification under the leadership of Prussia. The Prussians easily defeated their Austrian and German enemies, and became the dominant power in Northern Germany, while Austrian had to abandon her remaining influence in the rest of Germany. 

Germany in 1866

Until 1866 the German world was dominated by two major powers, Austria in the south and Prussia in the north and west. The rest of Germany was split into a large number of smaller states (although not the hundreds of earlier centuries). Amongst them were some sizable monarchies, including Hanover, Saxony and Bavaria.

Prussia was a divided kingdom, split between the traditional heartland in eastern Germany and a sizable foothold on the Rhine. Hanover sat uneasily between the two halves of Prussia.

Saxony sat between the northern border of Austria (Bohemia) and the Prussian heartland. Bavaria was the main kingdom of southern Germany, bordered to the south and east by Austria. To the west of Bavaria was the Kingdom of Württemberg.

Below the kingdoms were a number of Grand Duchies - Baden, Hesse, Luxembourg, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Oldenburg and Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. Below that were a mix of Duchies and smaller states.

The German Confederation had been formed in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. It included the Austrian part of the Hapsburg Empire, but not the Hungarian or other lands. Holstein had been part of the German Confederation, but not Schleswig. The eastern parts of Prussia also fell outside the Confederation. When founded the Confederation had 35 members, but this increased to 40 in 1820. The Confederation had a Federal Assembly, in which the eleven largest states each had one vote, the smaller states shared five and the free cities a single vote. The Assembly met in Frankfurt, under an Austrian president.


The main issue during the War of 1866 was the status of Prussia. The Prussians wanted to be recognised as Austria's equal (especially after Otto von Bismarck became Minister-President), with command of the German forces in the north. The Austrians were unwilling to make that concession.

The short-term cause of the war was the aftermath of the Schleswig-Holstein War of 1864. The Schleswig-Holstein Problem was a long-standing dispute over the status of the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. For several centuries the two duchies had been linked under a single duke, who was also the King of Denmark. Schleswig had a mixed Danish-German population, with more Danes in the north, while Holstein was mainly German. Holstein was also part of the German Confederation, but Schleswig was not. However Schleswig was not part of the Kingdom of Denmark, but was a separate possession of the King. In 1848 a pro-German revolt broke out in the Duchies. The Duke of Augustenburg was selected as the ruler of this new state, and Prussia contributed some soldiers to its defence. However most of the other European powers united to force the Germans to withdraw from the Duchies, and the duchies were restored to the King of Denmark. Sweden sent troops, Britain threatened to take naval action against Prussia and Russian threatened to intervene.

In the aftermath of the failed revolt public opinion hardened in Denmark and in Germany. In Denmark the 'Eider Danes', who wanted to absorb Schleswig into the Kingdom, making the River Eider its southern boundary, gained influence. In Germany nationalists wanted to overturn the humiliations of 1848-50. The Danes continued to believe that they had international support, but they failed to realise that the Crimean War (1853-56) had reduced the chances of any cooperation between the British and Russians. The Danish government's actions were largely based on the assumption that they would have French and British support. In 1863 a new constitution was adopted. Schleswig and Denmark was be ruled by a shared parliament, while Holstein would get its own separate constitution, but would lose any influence over events in Denmark and Schleswig. This was a breach of the treaty of London that had ended the revolt of 1848-50, and also a clear breach of the union of Schleswig and Holstein. It led to outrage in Germany (and in Holstein and the German parts of Schleswig). This new constitution was developed in the last months of the reign of Frederick VII, but was signed into law in November 1863 by his successor Christian IX.

The constitution had been announced in March 1863. In July the Federal Diet demanded that the Danes abandon their plans, and threatened to invade if their demands weren't met. In October the Diet voted to put their threat into operation, with Saxony and Hanover to provide the initial troops, supported if needed by Austria and Prussia. During this period Bismarck had put some effort into avoiding war, but at the start of 1864 he found a way to overturn the results of 1848-50 without triggering a European alliance against Prussia. In January 1864 Prussia and Austria signed an alliance in which they agreed to cooperate to overthrow the new Danish constitution, officially in order to defend the terms of the Treaty of London. By this point the German Federal Troops had already occupied Holstein, marching in on 24 December 1863.

The Austrians and Prussians invaded Schleswig on 1 February 1864. Most of Schleswig was quickly overrun, although the Danes held on to the fortress of Dybböl on the east coast. The other Great Powers didn't intervene, although they did object when the Prussians and Austrians reached the Danish border. A brief armistice was agreed, and a peace conference met in London on 25 April. The peace conference failed and the Allies invaded Danish Jutland. The Danes sued for peace, and at the start of August they gave up control of the Duchies.

The Austro-Prussian Treaty didn't include an agreement on the post-war status of the duchies. The Danes surrendered them into joint Austro-Prussian Custody, which didn't resolve the situation. In late August the two German powers held a conference at the Schönbrunn Palace near Vienna. The Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, Prussian King Wilhelm I of Prussia and their leading ministers were present. Each had their own ideas - Bismarck put forward a Prussian claim to both duchies and in return the Austrian chief minister wanted the Prussians to guarantee Austrian control of Venetia and agree to help re-conquer Lombardy if a war broke out with Italy. Bismarck was willing to agree to this, but the ministers hadn't taken their royal masters into account. Franz Joseph would only agree to give Prussia Schleswig and Holstein if Austria received some Prussian territory elsewhere, and Wilhelm was unwilling to give up any. More creditably Wilhelm I pointed out that he had no claim to the Duchies, and instead asked for Austrian recognition of Prussian military supremacy in northern Germany.  The conference broke down in failure, and the two powers only agreed to share custody of the duchies until they could come up with a more permanent solution. At this stage Bismarck was still expected a peaceful solution to be forced on the Austrians by problems elsewhere around the edges of their Empire, but events moved faster than he had expected.

The pro-Prussian ministers in Vienna lost power in 1865, after Prussia went back on a promise to include Austria within the German Zollverein, or free trade area. Both powers then attempted to woe the Duke of Augustenburg, the claimant of 1848. Bismarck was willing to accept him as Duke as long as Prussia controlled the local military, and the duke was unwilling to accept these terms. The Austrians also courted the Duke, and soon after the breakdown of his negotiations with the Prussians voted in favour of his claim in the Diet at Frankfurt. A solution appeared to have been found in the summer of 1865. Prussian attempts to form an alliance with the new Kingdom of Italy worried the Austrians and on 14 August 1865 the two sides signed the Treaty of Gastein. Schleswig was to be administered by the Prussians and Holstein by the Austrians. Augustenburg wasn't mentioned in this treaty, but the Austrians soon reverted to supporting his claims, a move that annoyed Wilhelm I.

While this was going on Bismarck was also attempting to make sure that the French would remain neutral in any conflict between Austrian and Prussia.  He managed to arrange this at a meeting with Napoleon III at Biarritz. Napoleon III also helped convince the Italians to side with the Prussians, and on 8 April 1866 Prussia and Italy signed a three-month offensive and defensive military alliance. In return Bismarck agreed to continue the war until the Italians had Venetia.

This treaty ended any real chance of avoiding war between Austria and Prussia. In May 1866 Bismarck attempted to find a peaceful solution once again, asking for Prussian control of the German armies north of the Main. At last the Austrians agreed to this demand, but only if Prussia would guarantee their possession of Venetia. Bismarck was now trapped by his treaty with Italy and his agreement with Napoleon III and couldn't agree to this. The Austrians then offered to surrender Venetia to Italy in return for Italian neutrality, and this time it was the Italians who were trapped. Finally the Austrians attempted to win Napoleon III over by offering to surrender Venetia to him after they had fought the Prussians, in return for French neutrality in that war.

At this point the railways made their first major contribution to European warfare. The increased speed of movement allowed by the railways meant that a mobilised army could move onto the offensive much more quickly than in the past. In the past there was a buffer granted by the time it would take for the mobilised army to march from its depots to the relevant border. In 1866, just as in 1914 the order to mobilize was almost a declaration of war.

On this occasion mobilization started slowly. Early in 1866 the Prussians called up the Prussian Landwher. The Austrians responded on 2 March by calling up six cavalry regiments and six gun batteries, then on 6 March by moving ten infantry battalions and thirty cavalry squadrons into Bohemia. This played into Bismarck's hands, allowing him to portray the Austrians as the aggressors, and helped convince the Prussian General Staff that they needed to mobilise quickly. On 24 March Bismarck asked the German Confederation if Prussia could rely on their help against any Austrian aggression. On 28 March the Prussian Ministerial Council called up 11,000 infantry and posted them in southern Silesia, facing the Austrians in Bohemia. While the Austrian high command continued to delay taking more measures, the Prussian military (and King William) became increasingly worried about the risk of the Austrians getting a head start and in particular of them attacking Berlin. On 21 April the Austrians made their next move, mobilizing the army of the South in response to false rumours from Italy. Finally on 27 April the Austrians ordered full mobilisation. On 3 May the Prussians mobilised the five Corps nearest to Austria.

Between then and the outbreak of war a number of efforts were made to maintain the peace, including one by Napoleon III and one by the Gablenz brothers (one was the Austrian governor of Holstein and the other was a Prussian citizen so they had a foot in both camps). The Gablenz plan came closest to success, but after five weeks of negotiations nothing came of it. At the same time Austrian diplomats managed to win over most of the other German states, who also mobilised, although at first without specifying who they were acting against.

The final trigger for war was once again Schleswig-Holstein. On 1 June the Austrians put the Schleswig-Holstein question to the German Diet, breaking the Treaty of Gastein. On 3 July the Prussians protested about this breach of the treaty, but in reality Bismarck was greatly relieved by the Austrian move, which allowed him to portray them as the aggressors. On 5 June the Austrians went one step further, when Governor Gablenz summoned the Estates of Holstein to meet on 11 June. General Manteuffel, the Prussian governor of Schleswig, protested about this move and announced that Prussia would implement its claim to both duchies. Prussian troops crossed into Holstein on the following day, hoping for a confrontation. Gablenz managed to elude them, withdrawing his small garrison into Altona. As the Prussians approached that fortress the Austrians slipped away once again. Both sides were annoyed that there had been no fighting in Holstein - the Prussians because they wanted to use the issue of the duchies as their excuse for war, the Austrians because they wanted to portray the Prussians as the aggressors. On 12 June the Austrians withdrew their ambassador from Berlin. On 14 June the German Diet voted in favour of an Austrian call for mobilisation of the Federal forces by nine votes to five. The Prussians declared that this vote meant the German Confederation had dissolved itself, and considered this vote to mark the start of the war.

This triggered two linked but operationally separate wars. In the north the Prussians inflicted a series of defeats on their German and Austrian opponents in the Austro-Prussian or Seven Weeks War. In the south the Austrians defeated the Italians in the Third Italian War of Unification, winning the only major battle of that war at Custozza. However the Prussian victory meant that the Austrians had to surrender Venetia to the Italians. This only left the Papal city of Rome, which was protected Napoleon III, outside the Kingdom of Italy. Ironically Italian reunification would soon be completed after their most important ally in their earlier struggles with Austria suffered defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, leaving the Papal government without her protector.

The German Campaign

Although the Austrian campaign is the best known part of the war, the Prussians also faced a potentially powerful coalition of German states, made up of Hanover, Saxony, Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt and Nassau. However these forces were widely scattered at the start of the conflict, and never managed to unite.

They were split into three main units. The first to be engaged was the Hanoverian Army (General Arentschildt). This was made up of four brigades, and at full strength contained 20 infantry battalions, 24 cavalry squadrons and 52 guns.

The Bavarian Army (commanded by Prince Charles of Bavaria) contained 45 infantry battalions, 44 cavalry squadrons and 144 guns. It was organised into four divisions.

Electoral Hesse provided ten infantry battalions, eight cavalry squadrons (two detached to join the 8th Federal Corps) and 16 guns, organised into two divisions.

Most of the remaining forces were organised into the 8th Federal Corps. This contained the troops from Württemberg, Baden, Hess-Darmstadt and Nassau. This contained 46.5 infantry battalions, 36 cavalry squadrons and 134 guns. It was organised into four divisions. The 1st Division came from Württemberg, the 2nd Division from Baden, the 3rd Division from Hesse Darmstadt and the 4th from Nassau, supported by an Austrian brigade and two squadrons of cavalry from Electoral Hesse.

This gave Prussia's German opponents over 120 infantry battalions, 110 cavalry squadrons and 340 guns, but they suffered from a divided command, and were never able to unite as a single force.

The Prussians had two corps based in their western possessions, VII and VIII Army Corps, and another force in Holstein. Both of the regular corps were split up and sent large contingents to the armies campaigning against Austria. The Army of the Main was organised into three divisions. The 13th Infantry Division (von Goeben) came from VII Corps. A Combined Division under General von Beyer was formed from the remnants of VIII Corps, and was built around the 32nd Infantry Brigade. Finally a second Combined Division, under General Manteuffel and later General Flies, came from Holstein. In total this force contained 53 infantry battalions, 29 cavalry squadrons and 121 guns. At the start of the war the Army of the Main was scattered around western and northern Germany. At the start of the war this army was commanded by the elderly and rather stubborn General Falckenstein.

The Hanoverian Phase

The Prussian's main objective was to prevent their German opponents from uniting against them. Their first target was the Hanoverian Army, which was concentrating at Göttingen, just over fifty miles to the south of the city of Hanover. King George of Hanover was with the army. The Hanoverian plan was to complete their concentration, then move south to join either the Bavarians or the 8th Federal Corps. However the campaign moved too quickly for them. By the end of 17 June the Prussian 13th Division had taken the capital, and with it a large amount of military supplies. Manteuffel was advancing from Lüneburg towards Celle, so was still a little way to the north of Hanover city. By 19 June the Hanoverians were still at Göttingen, although they had officially decided to move south. On the Prussian side the 13th Division was ordered to move south towards Göttingen, while Beyer's division was at Cassel, south-west of the Hanoverian concentration. This meant that the original Hanoverian plan, to move south-west towards Frankfurt had to be abandoned.

On 21 June the Hanoverians began to move south. Their new target was Eisenach, to the south-east of Cassel and south of Göttingen. In theory this meant that they were dangerously exposed to an attack from the west, but luckily for them Falckenstein was unaware that they had begun to move, and directed Beyer to move the 13th Division towards Göttingen. The Hanoverians thus got a head-start. They were given even more help by some confusion in the Prussian command structure. On 19 June Falckenstein received a telegram directly from Bismarck suggesting that an attack on Frankfurt might prevent the Federal forces from ever getting organised. Late on 21 June Falckenstein received news of the Hanoverian move, and on the following morning he decided to abandon the campaign against Hanover and ordered his forces to head directly for Frankfurt. This greatly frustrated Moltke, who was far more concerned with the defeat of the separate German forces. As early as 19 June he had been suggesting that Falckenstein should use the railway system to move troops around to Eisenach by sending them east to Magdeburg, south from there to join the rail line that ran west to Gotha and then Eisenach. Moltke did have some troops around Gotha and Eisenach, but nowhere near enough to stop a determined Hanoverian attack.

On the morning of 22 June Falckenstein ordered the 13th Division and Manteuffel to concentrate around Göttingen, ready to move to Cassel and then Frankfurt. Beyer was ordered to concentrate around Ottmannshausen, west of the Hanoverian position, and send scouts out towards Eisenach. He ignored orders from Moltke to send troops on a railway that ran from Göttingen to Cassel then curved around east to Eisenach, using the destruction of a rail tunnel as his excuse.

The Hanoverian position was thus quite strong, with all three Prussian divisions at least two or three days movement away from them and the road south only guarded by a weak detachment under Colonel Fabeck. However confidence amongst the Hanoverian command was low. On 23 June Fabeck attempted to gain time by demanding that the Hanoverians should surrender because they were surrounded. This began a period of dithering that lost the Hanoverians their chance to escape. Orders were put in place for an advance, then cancelled, while negotiations went on. While this was going on the main Hanoverian force concentrated at Langensalza, just to the north of Gotha.

On 24 June the Hanoverians decided to break off the negotiations and resume the movement south. On the same day the first fighting broke out when Bülow's Brigade from the Hanoverian Army attacked the weak Prussian outposts north of Eisenach. However, just as the Hanoverians were pushing the Prussians back, a message arrived suggesting that the negotiations might after all have borne fruit. A truce was arranged, to last until 8am on 25 June.

During this gap in the fighting the Prussians rushed reinforcements to Eisenach. During the night of 24-25 June five battalions from Beyer's corps arrived on foot, and another five from the 13th Division arrived by rail. Falckenstein was also forced to move troops to Gotha, detaching five battalions from Manteuffel's division. These troops arrived late on 25 June. Negotiations on 25 June went fairly badly, but they did produce a truce, believed by the Prussians to be for 24 hours and by the Hanoverians to be 'until further notice'. This caused a muddle on 26 June, not helped by Moltke's attempts to manage the campaign from Berlin using incomplete information. In particular he believed that the Hanoverians were retreating north after a foraging party discovered on the night of 26-27 June was misreported as a major troop concentration. Falckenstein continued to disobey orders to concentrate against the Hanoverians. On 27 June he issued orders to Mantauffel to operate against the Hanoverians, while his other two divisions were faced south to deal with a possible Bavarian attack (based on false reports).

One Prussian commander did take the demands for an attack seriously. This was General Flies, in command of the detachment at Gotha. He advanced north, in the belief that the Hanoverians were retreating. Instead he ran into their entire army, which was posted on the north bank of the River Unstrut. The Prussians attacked, but were repulsed. The battle of Langensalza (27 June 1866) ended as the only significant Prussian defeat during the German campaign, but the Hanoverian triumph was short lived. It soon became clear to the Hanoverian commanders that they were surrounded, and on 29 June the Hanoverians surrendered. After the end of the war Hanover itself became part of Prussia.

Bavarian and Federal Phase

The Prussians were still outnumbered in Germany, but their opponents were slow to get moving. The two remaining commanders struggled to arrange a common strategy, partly because they didn’t know for certain what was happening to the Hanoverians, partly because they weren't ready to move and partly because they had different secondary objectives. In particular Prince Alexander of Hesse, commander of the 8th Federal Corps, was worried about a Prussian threat to Frankfurt and to the small states that provided his army. As the Hanoverian campaign came to its end the Bavarians were at Bamberg while the 8th Federal Corps was some ninety miles to the west, covering Frankfurt. The Bavarians did have some cavalry around Meiningen, 35 miles from the Prussians at Gotha.

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

On 26 June the two German commanders met and adopted a plan to advance to Hersfeld, south of Cassel and west of Eisenach. They intended to concentrate around Hersfeld by 7 July. This was a bad idea and the detailed plan was even worse. The overall plan would only work if the Allies could reach Hersfeld before the Prussians did, but that was almost impossible. The Prussians were already close to the town when the plan was adopted, and it could only succeed if the Hanoverians managed to keep them busy. The detailed plan was for the 8th Federal Corps to move north to Alsfeld, then north-east to Hersfeld, while the Bavarians would advance north-west to Meiningen and then Hersfeld. This meant that the allies wouldn't be united until the very end of the march, and would be separated by the Hohe Rhön Mountains for part of the march. The Prussians would easily be able to move south into the gap between the two armies. A far better plan would have been for the two allied contingents to move straight towards each other and unite while they were at a safe distance from the Prussians.

By 30 June, when the movement was to begin, the 8th Corps was at Friedberg, just north of Frankfurt, while the Bavarians were around Meiningen. The news of the Hanoverian surrender meant that there was no longer any reason to move north, and Prince Charles wanted to alter the plans and unite at Kissingen, south of Meiningen and east of Frankfurt. Prince Alexander couldn't agree with that, but he did alter his destination from Alsfeld to Fulda, twenty miles further south-east.

The Prussians began to move south on 2 July. Their target was Fulda, south-west of Eisenach. This movement triggered the first clashes of the new campaign. By the start of July the Bavarians were moving west. Three divisions were to cross the Hohe-Rhön Mountains, while Hartmann's Division was sent around the northern end of the mountains to act as a flank guard. On 3 July the Prussians occupied Dermbach, getting there ahead of Hartmann. By the end of the night Hartmann had occupied positions at Wiesenthal to the east and Zella to the south of Dermbach.

In many ways the decisive movement of the German campaign came on 4 July. The fighting began around Hünfeld, south-west of Dermbach. This involved the Bavarian Reserve Cavalry, which had been sent to occupy Fulda and was now moving north, and the leading troops from Beyer's Division, the leading part of the Prussia army. This ended as a clear Prussian victory, and the Bavarian cavalry didn’t stop retreating until it was well to the south of Fulda. To the north-east Hartmann's troops clashed with Goeben's Division, which had been given the task of guarding the Prussian left. The resulting battle of Dermbach (4 July 1866) ended as another Prussian victory. At first the two German forces continued to attempt to arrange to unite, but on 6 July both commanders received news of the massive Prussian victory at Königgrätz. It was now clear that the war was effectively lost. The various contingents of the Federal Corps were no longer interested in joining up with the Bavarians, but instead wanted to concentrate on protecting their homelands.

The Prussians intended to concentrate against the Bavarians, but at first they moved south to Fulda, and just beyond. The Bavarians didn't expect to be attacked from the mountains, and by the end of 9 July they were stretched out along a 22 mile long front. Zoller's division was on the left, with one brigade at Hammelburg and another to the north-east at Kissingen. By this point the Prussians were concentrated around Brückenau, north-west of the Austrian position.

On 10 July the Prussians attacked at Hammelburg and Kissingen. In both places the Bavarians put up some stiff resistance, and at Kissingen they even managed to launch a fierce counterattack, but both battles ended as Prussian victories. By the end of the day the Bavarians were in retreat towards Poppenhausen, to the south-east of Kissingen.

In the aftermath of these two defeats the Bavarians retreated towards Schweinfurt and Würzburg. On 11 July the Prussians continued to try and pursue the Bavarians, although it took some time to find them again. Politics now intervened. Peace negotiations were underway with the Austrians, and the Bismarck wanted to have the area north of the River Main and the Federal Capital of Frankfurt in Prussian hands before the fighting ended. At 1pm Falckenstein received his new orders, and he issued new instructions to his three divisions. They were to abandon their moves against the Bavarians and instead move west through Gemünden towards Aschaffenburg.

This route took his troops across another area of high ground, the Spessart. General Goeben's Division was sent on ahead to secure the western end of the road across these mountains. By the end of 12 July he was at Lohr, in the eastern Spessart. Manteuffel's Division followed Beyer along the same road. Beyer's Division followed a more northerly route that emerged at Hanau. At the end of 12 July he was at Rieneck on the River Sinn.

In the meantime the 8th Corps had completed its retreat back towards Frankfurt, and had then been engaged in some rather pointless manoeuvres around the city. Prince Alexander of Hesse, command of the 8th Corps, was informed that the Prussians were heading his way on 12 July, and decided to try and escape to the south-east to join up with the Bavarians. This move would have left Frankfurt undefended, and so those members of the German Diet who were still in the city were ordered to evacuate to Augsburg.

The course of the final stage of the German campaign was dominated by the course of the River Main. This rises in the east and flows west to reach the Rhine near Mainz. In the area we are interested in the river flowed through a series of large loops. After reaching Schweinfurt it flows south for about thirty miles. It then turns north-west and flows past Würzburg and Karlstadt, eventually ending up level with Schweinfurt. Würzburg is towards the southern end of this stretch. The river then turned south and flowed around three sides of the Spessart. It turned west just before reaching Wertheim, where the River Tauber joined it from the south. At Miltenberg the river turns north/ north-west and flows past Aschaffenburg to Hanau, where it turns west and flows past Frankfurt on its way to the Rhine.

Prince Alexander's planned route took him across the line of advance of the Prussians. On 13 July Goeben's advancing troops inflicted a heavy defeat on the Hessian Brigade at Laufach, towards the western edge of the Spessart. This alone would have forced Alexander to change his plans, but that evening he received orders to use a new route, south across the Odenwald and then east through Miltenberg to unite with the Bavarians at Uffenheim, south-east of Würzburg, a march of some 90 miles, with the Prussians close by. In contrast the Bavarians only had to make a short move south, with no danger of Prussian intervention.

This plan only survived for a single day. On 14 July the advancing Prussians defeated the Austrians and Hessians at Aschaffenburg. Alexander was forced to use a route further west, and began to send his remaining troops along the railway through Darmstadt. However the Prussians weren't in a position to prevent this movement, as only Goeben's Division was on the Main - the other two divisions were still thirty miles to the east. Goeben's men were too tired to pursue the retreating Federal troops.

By the end of 14 July the 8th Corps was spread out across the countryside south and east of Frankfurt. The Württemberg Division and one Hessian Brigade were east of Frankfurt, just to the south of Hanau. The retreating Austrians were at Hergertshausen, west of Aschaffenburg. The Baden Division and the other Hessian Brigade were at Babenhausen, a little further to the west. HQ was a little to the south, at Dieburg. Finally the Reserve Cavalry was a little further to the west, heading for Darmstadt. The Corps could still have concentrated in this area and inflicted a defeat on Goeben's isolated troops, but Prince Alexander believed that the Prussians would only have attacked if their entire army was close to hand.

On 15 July the 8th Corps began to move south, taking three roads across the Odenwald. By the end of 16 July the Austrians had reached Miltenberg, where the Main turned north. The Baden Division was behind them on the same road. The Württemberg Division and Hessian Division was on the next road to the west, and had reached König and Wörth. The Hessian Division and Nassau Brigade were on the western road, and had reached Fränkisch-Grumbach and Gross Bieberau. Most of the corps rested on 17 July, before resuming their advance east on 18 July. Finally, on 20 July, contact was established with the Bavarians on the River Tauber. By the end of 22 July the 8th Corps had taken up positions along the river. The Baden Division was in the north, with its right flank at Wertheim on the Main. The Württemberg Division was in the centre, around Werbach. The Austrian-Nassau Division was on the left, around Gerlachsheim. The Reserve Artillery was just to the east of Gerlachsheim, at Zimmern. The Cavalry Reserve was posted west of the river, spread out between Hundheim in the north and Hardheim in the south.

Frankfurt was now undefended. On 15 July the city's senate declared it to be an open city, and on 16 July the Prussians occupied the city. On the following day Falckenstein announced that he was taking over the government of Nassau, Frankfurt and the occupied parts of Bavaria, but almost immediately after achieving this triumph he discovered he had been replaced. General Manteuffel was to take over the Army of the Main, while Falckenstein was appointed as administrator of occupied Bohemia. He was paying for his tendency to ignore Moltke's orders.

Manteuffel visited Frankfurt on 20 July, and then turned his attention to catching the retreating 8th Corps. He then put his new command in motion. On 21 July his troops were based at Frankfurt, Hanau and Aschaffenburg, where they had spent a few days resting. Goeben's division was now sent south to Darmstadt then east to Dieburg. Manteuffel's old division, now under General Flies, and Beyer's division, both moved along the left bank of the Main. By 22 July the three Prussian divisions were in a triangle south of Aschaffenburg. Beyer was in the north, at Wallstadt. Flies was to the south-east at Laudenbach. Goeben was west of Flies and of the Main, at König.

The Bavarians and 8th Corps were finally close to uniting, but even now they couldn't agree on a plan. Eventually Prince Charles agreed to Prince Alexander's suggestion, which was for a move north back into the Spessart and an attack towards Frankfurt. Once again this plan required the two corps to move on different routes. The Bavarians were to move north-west from Würzburg towards Lohr. The 8th Corps, which was now spread out along the River Tauber, some way to the south of the Main, was to advance north to the Main, cross the river at Marktheidenfeld, then move north-west towards Aschaffenburg. By 23 July part of the 8th Corps was at Hundheim, four miles south of the Main, and a similar distance west of the Tauber. 

On that day it became clear that the Prussians were once again moving much quicker than the Federals. There were skirmishes at both ends of the Federal line, with one clash two miles south-west of Wertheim on the Main and another west of Tauberbischofsheim. As a result the troops at Hundheim and on the Main retreated to Kulsheim, south-east of Hundheim. On the same day the Bavarians began their move north-west, so the two parts of the Federal army began to move apart once again.  

Prince Alexander decided to try and defend the line of the Tauber. His new position stretched out along seven miles of the river, and wasn't strongly held. On 24 July Manteuffel attacked the new Federal position (battle of Tauberbischofsheim, 24 July 1866). Further north the Prussians won a second victory at Werbach (24 July 1866). When this news reached Prince Charles he abandoned the move towards Lohr, and ordered his army to move back to Rossbrunn, west of Würzburg.  

Once again the two Federal commanders operated at cross purposes on 25 July. Prince Alexander began a retreat north-east towards Gerchsheim, with the ultimate intention of crossing the Main, probably somewhere around Würzburg. In contrast Prince Charles wanted the 8th Corps to try and retake the line of the Tauber, while his army moved south to close up with the 8th Corps.

Neither plan took much account of possible Prussian actions. Manteuffel decided to try and get between the two Federal forces. Two of his three divisions were sent to try and get around the northern flank of the retreating 8th Corps. This move triggered two battles. To the north-west Beyer's division ran into the Bavarians at Helmstadt (25 July 1866), where he had the best of a fairly even contest. At the end of the day the Bavarians retreated, having lost control of Helmstadt. To the south-east Goeben's Division fought a separate battle against 8th Corps at Gerchsheim (25 July 1866). At the end of the day the 8th Corps was retreating towards Würzburg, putting an end to Prince Charles's plans for a combined attack on the Prussians.

The Prussians and Bavarians clashed again on 26 July (battle of Rossbrun, 26 July 1866). Once again the Prussians were victorious, although at some cost. The Bavarians now joined the 8th Corps across the Main, and something of a standoff developed around Würzburg. The war was now clearly coming to an end. After a brief artillery duel between the Prussians and the Bavarian guns at Marienberg near Würzberg on 27 July, the Prussians went into camp. Direct negotations were opened between the Prussians and Bavarians but these were interrupted by the arrival of a telegram from Moltke announcing the signing of a preliminary peace treaty with Austria on 24 July. A truce with Bavaria was to begin on 2 August. A ceasefire was agreed on the Main, to be ended with twenty four hours notice. On the following day the two armies went into widely dispersed camps. On 1 August Manteuffel demanded the surrender of Würzberg, or he would cancel the ceasefire. Well aware that his army was beginning to collapse, Prince Charles was forced to agree. On 2 August the Prussians entered the city, just before the official truce came into effect.

The Saxon and Austrian Campaigns

The main campaign involved three Prussian armies. On the Prussian right (west) was the Army of the Elbe, commanded by General Karl E. Herwarth von Bittenfeld. This army started the war near Torgau, north-east of Leipzig and north-west of the Saxon capital of Dresden. In the Prussian centre was the First Army, under Prince Frederick Charles. This started near Görlitz, now right on the German-Polish border, but then facing the eastern tip of Saxony and part of Bohemia. On the Prussian left (east) was the Second Army, under Crown Prince Frederick William. This army started near Landeshut (now Kamienna Góra in south-western Poland), facing north-eastern Bohemia.

At the start of the Bohemia campaign the Prussian centre and right was facing a mixed Saxon and Austrian force, made up of the Austrian 1st Corps (Clam-Gallas) and the Saxon Corps (Crown Prince Albert of Saxony). The Saxons decided to retreat east to join the Austrians after the invasion of their country, and had originally moved east to join the main army. On 20 June they were ordered to join Clam-Gallas on the Iser instead and had to retrace their steps. On 24 June the Crown Prince was placed in command of this force, and the two forces were soon united, with the Saxons posted just to the south of the Austrians.

The rest of the Austrian army began the campaign further east, with the lead units at Josephstadt and the bulk of the army moving in that direction from the south-east. This gave Benedek six army corps to face the four of the Crown Prince.


The first step on the road to Bohemia was the invasion of Saxony. This campaign was allocated to the Army of the Elbe, with some support from the 1st Army on their left. The Prussians were worried that they might encounter a combined Saxon and Austrian army before they reached the Saxon capital of Dresden. Moltke was more worried that the Saxon army might retreat west into Bavaria, a move that might have forced him to detach the Army of the Elbe from the invasion of Bohemia.

The Army of the Elbe crossed the Saxon border at 6am on 16 June, advancing down the line of the Elbe towards Dresden. Further east General von Horn's 8th Division crossed into eastern Saxony and occupied Lobau that day and Bautzen on 17 June.

The main advance was equally successful. General von Etzel's 16th Division occupied Dresden without opposition on 18 June and the entire country (apart from the fortress of Königstein) was occupied by 20 June. A Prussian Reserve Corps moved from Berlin to occupy Saxony, and the Army of the Elbe moved up to the Bohemia border. On 19 June the Army of the Elbe was put under the command of Prince Frederick Charles, giving him two armies and control of the entire Prussian right wing.


Moltke issued the orders for the invasion of Bohemia on the afternoon of 22 June. The three Prussian armies were to advance towards Gitschin (Jicin), a key transport hub north of the Elbe, roughly half way between the two main Prussian concentrations. Moltke's biggest worry at this stage was that the Austrians would concentrate against the Crown Prince's 2nd Army, which had the more difficult mountain passes to cross.

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

The danger was actually greater than Moltke believed - the main Austrian armies had formed around Olmutz in Moravia, and were now concentrating around Josephstadt in eastern Bohemia, and not on the River Iser, north-east of Prague. The Austrian concentration thus put them in an excellent position to hit the Crown Prince while he was isolated, or to watch the Crown Prince and hit Prince Frederick Charles instead. The key to the entire war would be the Austrian's failure to focus on either of these ideas. In the days before the Prussians crossed the Bohemia border Benedek appears to have intended to attack the Crown Prince's isolated army, but as the campaign developed he was convinced to focus on the two western Prussian armies instead, and thus missed his best chance for a victory.

The Crown Prince's army began to cross the mountains on 26 June. It was split into three columns. On the right was I Corps, which was to advance from Liebau and Schomberg and emerge east of Trautenau. In the centre was the Guards Corps, which was to advance from Braunau to Epyle. On the left, acting as the flank guard for the entire army was V Corps, which was to advance from Glatz and Reichenstern towards Nachod. VI was to follow V Corps. The three Prussians columns were to emerge from the mountains in a line running from Nachod in the south-east to Trautenau in the north-west.

The western two Prussian armies moved slowly but steadily across the mountains. By 25 June the 1st Army was safely across, and was centred on Reichenberg, north of the Iser. The Army of the Elbe was some way to the west, but the gap between the two armies was empty of Austrian troops and was narrowing all the time.

26 June

The 26 June saw the Austrians and Saxons lose any change of holding the line of the River Iser. At the start of the day the Prussian 1st Army was at Reichenberg, north of the river, while Clam-Gallas and the Saxons were centred on Münchengrätz, south of the river. The Austrians had outposts across the river, including a force of cavalry at Liebenau. Prince Frederick Charles sent General von Horn's 8th Division south to reconnoitre the road to Turnau on the Iser. This force ran into the Austrian outposts, leading to the first significant action of the campaign, the action of Liebenau (26 June 1866). The Austrians were forced to retreat by superior numbers, but as well as abandoning Liebenau they also left Turnau undefended. The advancing Prussians soon reached that place, and gained a first foothold across the Iser. 

Prince Albert had previously suggested that Turnau should be defended. Now he and Clam-Gallas received orders to hold the line of the Iser at all cost. They decided to launch a counterattack from Podol, on the north or west bank of the river, towards Turnau. Instead they ran into the Prussians, triggering the combat of Podol (26-27 June 1866). This night-battle ended with the Austrians in retreat once again, and the line of the Iser permanently lost to them. There was also a real chance that the Prussians could advance into the gap between Clam-Gallas and Saxons in the west and the main Austrian army further east.

On the same day the leading units of the Army of the Elbe clashed with the Austrian Leiningen's Brigade at Hühnerwasser, west of the main fighting.

The key event on the eastern front came at Nachod, one of the possible locations where the Austrians might have blocked the Prussian advance. On the afternoon of 26 June the advance guard of V Corps, on the Crown-Prince's left, occupied the town without a struggle.

Perhaps the most important event of the day came at the Austrian HQ. Benedek's plan to attack the Crown Prince was opposed by his Director of Operations General Gideon Ritter von Krismanic (effectively his chief of staff). Krismanic preferred an attack on the western Prussian armies, leaving a small force to watch the Crown Prince. His reasoning was that the western forces were the strongest part of the Prussian army, and a victory over them would automatically lead to the defeat or retreat of the Crown Prince's force, whereas a victory over the Crown Prince might leave the Austrian army too weakened to cope with the fresh Prussians. This was the reason for the order to hold the line of the Iser

27 June

27 June was a quiet day on the western front. The Prussians consolidated their positions, while Prince Frederick Charles prepared for a major assault on the Austrian position at Münchengrätz. Clam-Gallas and Prince Albert realised that they were dangerously isolated after receiving a telegram from Benedek that made it clear that the main army was still at Josephstadt, with plans to move to Gitschin by 30 June. Accordingly Prince Albert ordered the combined army to prepare to move east to Gitschin on 28 June.

On the eastern front the Prussian V Corps and Austrian 6th Corps clashed in the battle of Nachod, as the Austrians attempted to push the Prussians back into the mountains. General Ramming's division came under heavy pressure, but held on until the rest of the V Corps arrived. The shattered Austrians were forced to retreat west to Skalitz, after suffering 7,510 casualties.

On the other flank of the Crown Prince's army things went better for the Austrians. The battle of Trautenau saw the Prussian I Corps (Bonin) thrown back by determined Austrian resistance, although even here the Austrians suffered heavier casualties, losing just under 6,000 men from Gablenz's 10th Corps. Bonin's corps retreated almost to the Prussian border, meaning that it was out of play on the following day.

28 June

Three separate battles were fought on 28 June, two in the east and one in the west.

In the west Prince Frederick Charles intended to trap the Austrians and Saxons at Münchengrätz. The Army of the Elbe was to attack from the west, and the 1st Army was to join in once the Austrians were fully engaged. The aim was for the 1st Army to hit the right-rear of the Austrians as they faced west to deal with the Army of the Elbe. The resulting battle of Münchengrätz was a disappointment for the Prussians. Crown Prince Albert had ordered his men to begin to retreat east early on 28 June and by the time the Prussians attacked the retreat was well underway. A series of rearguard actions were fought around the town, in which the Austrians lost 2,000 men, including 1,390 prisoners, and the Prussians only 341, but the main Austrian and Saxon forces had escaped.

In the east both Austrian forces engaged on 27 June had suffered heavy losses. General Ramming's corps was moved into reserve, while the Archduke Leopold's 8th Corps was given the task of defending Skalitz, the next town west of Nachod on the main road towards the Elbe and the main Austrian concentration. The Archduke had been ordered not to get involved in any major battle, as the plan was still to concentrate against Prince Frederick Charles in the west. The Archduke ignored that instruction, and instead ended up fighting a fierce battle against the Prussian V Corps (battle of Skalitz). Once again the Austrians were defeated, and once again they had suffered heavily, losing over 5,500 men. Both Austrian corps retreated west across the Elbe - Ramming moved furthest, to Lanzow, while the Archduke ended up at Salney, north-west of Josephstadt.

To the north the Austrians suffered a second setback. Early in the day General Gablenz was ordered to move south to guard the road to Josephstadt against a Prussian column that had been detected at Eypel. This was the Prussian Guards Corp, the central column in the Crown Prince's army, which had been ordered to attack Gablenz in support of a renewed offensive by Bonin. Neither side's high command performed terribly well in the build-up to the resulting battle of Soor or Burkersdorf (28 June 1866) - the Prussians didn't realise that Bonin had retreated, and the Austrians moved troops to the wrong place, failed to identify the Prussian threat and were luck not to suffer a heavier defeat. As it was Gablenz suffered around 3,500 losses and was forced to retreat.

29 June

Once again there were three clashes on 29 June, one in the west and two in the east, and again all three were Prussian victories.

In the west the combined Army of the Elbe and the Prussian 1st Army advanced towards the new Austrian and Saxon position at Gitschin. General Tümpling's division from the 1st Army led the Prussian advance, and his division played a major part in the upcoming battle. Although the Prussians were outnumbered by more than two-to-one, they still won a significant victory. However it was the Prussian victories further east that forced the Crown Prince and Clam-Gallas to continue to retreat east.

The first of these defeats came at Königinhof on the Elbe, where part of the Prussian Guards Corps defeated a rearguard from Gablenz's 10th Corps and captured the town, inflicting 597 casualties on the Austrians.

The second was on a larger scale. The Austrian 4th Corp (General Festetics) was still guarding the exits from Skalitz, now occupied by Steinmetz's V Corps. Their new target was Gradlitz, some way to the west, and near to the Guards Corps. The Prussians decided to try and force their way past the Austrian left wing. This triggered an action at Schweinschädel. The Austrians were defeated with the loss of 1,484 casualties and 3,400 prisoners, but the survivors were able to escape because General Steinmetz was aware that he needed to close up with the Guards Corps.

By the end of the day the Prussians had reached the Elbe, with I Corps towards Arnau, the Guards Corps around Königinhof and V Corps not far to the north of Josephstadt.

30 June

The events of 28 June had caused a change of Austrian plan. Early on 29 June Benedek decided to concentrate around Dübenetz, between Josephstadt and Gitschin. The defeats on 29 June meant that this plan also had to be abandoned. Early on 30 June Benedek decided to retreat south towards Königgrätz. This news caused some concern in Vienna, and a special envoy was sent to HQ to discuss the situation.

On the Prussian side the 2nd Army rested for most of the day, while the 1st Army and Army of the Elbe moved fairly slowly through Gitschin. Both wings of the Prussian army sent out cavalry patrols in an attempt to join up with the other, although the telegraph meant that Moltke knew where most of his forces were located, and was able to issue firm instructions to keep them on track.

Further back the Prussian Royal Headquarters left Berlin. The impact of the speed of railway communications on warfare was demonstrated rather impressively by the speed of this movement - by midnight on the same day the Royal party had reached Clam Gallas's castle at Reichenberg. Even while they were on the move, the Royal party had remained in telegraphic communication, allowing Moltke to keep issuing orders as he moved.

1 July

On the morning of 1 July Benedek and his staff met with Colonel Beck, Franz-Josef's special envoy. The result of the meeting was deeply discouraging. Benedek sent a telegram to the Emperor urging him to make peace, as the army couldn't withstand a Prussian attack. This was sent at 11.30am, and at 2.30pm Franz-Josef responded with his own telegram 'Impossible to make peace. I command you to begin a retreat, if unavoidable, in the greatest possible order. Has a battle taken place?' Benedek interpreted this as an order to seek a battle. In the meantime his morale improved as the army recovered from several days of defeats.

On the Prussia side Moltke was irritated to find that his armies had lost contact with the Austrians. He was entirely unaware of their move west to Dübenetz, or the start of the retreat towards Königgrätz. The Prussians made limited movements on 1 July. The 2nd Army stayed almost static apart from I Corps, which moved to the west bank of the Elbe, much to Moltke's annoyance. The 1st Army moved east/ south-east from Gitschin, with the Army of the Elbe behind it and to the right.

2 July

At the start of 2 July Moltke still didn't know where the main Austrian force had gone. His orders for 3 July reflect this. The Army of the Elbe was ordered to send patrols out to observe the Prague area and the Elbe downstream from Pardubitz (south of Königgrätz, where the Elbe turned west and flowed towards Prague). The 1st Army was to sent patrols out to the area between Josephstadt and Königgrätz, but otherwise was limited to a minor advance. The 2nd Army was to stay put, apart from I Corps, which was to move south on the west bank of the Elbe. Moltke's assumption was that the Austrians would cross to the east bank of the Elbe, and defend a position that ran between the fortresses of Königgrätz and Josephstadt. This was why he wanted the 2nd Army to stay east of the river, so it could hit the flank of this strong position.

Most troops on both sides had a rest day on 2 July. This allowed the Prussians to recover from their rapid advance into Bohemia, but was probably of more advantage to the Austrians who now had a strong defensive position in hilly countryside between the Elbe and the River Bistritz, further to the west. The fortress of Königgrätz was at the south-eastern corner of this battlefield, and the village of Sadowa towards its north-western corner, on the Bistritz. The resulting battle takes its alternative names from both of these locations.

Moltke still had critics within the Prussian high command. His aim was to unite the three Prussian armies during the battle itself, trapping the Austrians by attacking from three directions. Many of his colleagues either couldn't see this, or expected the army to unite before the battle.

The Austrian high command was more divided. Late on 2 July Benedek was ordered to remove Clam Gallas from command of I Corps, and replace Krismanic as his Director of Operations. He chose to appoint Major General Alois von Baumgarten as his new Chief of Staff, but allowed Krismanic to stay with the army.

During the day the Prussians finally made contact with the Austrians in their actual position west of the Elbe, but that news didn't reach Moltke until around 11pm in the evening of 2 July.

3 July

Von Moltke now had his chance for a Cannae. His plan was to use the First Army to pin the Austrians in place on the Bistritz. The Army of the Elbe would cross the river to the south of the Austrian position and attack their left flank, with the aim of cutting their line of retreat across the Elbe at Königgrätz. The Second Army would attack from the north, ideally getting behind the main Austrian position. Only then would the First Army would attack in full strength, leaving the Austrians trapped between three forces and with no choice other than to surrender.

The resulting battle of Königgrätz or Sadowa didn't go quite as Moltke had planned. The order to move didn't reach the Second Army by telegram, but instead by messengers on horseback. The Crown Prince also had longer to move than the other two Prussian armies, and so didn't reach the battlefield until mid-afternoon. On the Prussian right the Army of the Elbe attempted to cross the Bistritz over a single bridge, again slowing its progress. As a result the First Army was exposed to heavy fighting all morning with little support from the other parts of the Prussian army. A prolonged struggle took place in the Swiepwald, a wood to the right of the original Austrian line. A small Prussian force managed to hold onto this wood for most of the day, distracting the Austrians from the threats to their flanks and weakening key parts of their army. In the south the Army of the Elbe slowly increased the pressure on the Saxons, who had taken up a position on the Austrian left. Finally, the Second Army entered the fray, hitting the far right of the Austrian line and capturing a key position. The Austrian army began to retreat, while all the time Prussians attempted to cut off its escape routes. The slow progress of the Army of the Elbe meant that these efforts failed, and most of the Austrian army managed to escape across the Elbe at Königgrätz.

Even so the Austrians had suffered very heavy casualties during the day. The Austrians recorded their losses as 44,200 officers and men, including 19,800 prisoners. The Prussians lost 9,172 men including 1,935 dead and 6,959 wounded, with just over half of the losses falling in the First Army.

The Advance to the Danube

The last phase of the campaign was shaped by the limited Austrian railway system. A single line ran north-east from Vienna then turned north to run toward Moravia. In Moravia it split into two, with the eastern branch heading to Olmütz, where the Austrians had originally concentrated their army and the western branch running through Brünn. The two branches reunited close to the border between Moravia and Bohemia and ran west towards Prague. About half way to Prague another line branched off to the north, heading to Josephstadt. This line had been used during the Austrian advance.

To the east of all of these railways were the Carpathian Mountains, with Hungary to their east. At the southern end of the mountains is Pressburg, on the north bank of the Danube. A railway ran from Hungary to Pressburg and then west towards Vienna, joining up with the Olmütz line half way between the two cities.

To the south the last phase of the campaign was bordered by the Danube, with Vienna on its southern bank.

Benedek had two choices as he retreated from Königgrätz. He could head for Vienna, using roads and the railway to Brünn or he could move further east, to Olmütz, where there was a powerful fortress and an entrenched camp. The first option would have protected Vienna, but ran the risk of the army falling apart on the march. The other offered more hope of keeping the army fairly intact, but left Vienna fairly open to a Prussian attack. However Benedek knew that fresh Austrian troops were on their way from Italy, the Danube was a significant barrier, and Vienna wasn’t undefended. Moreover an intact Austrian army at Olmütz would have threatened the left flank of any Prussian attack on Vienna. As a result he decided to make for Olmütz with most of his army. Part of the cavalry was ordered south to slow down any Prussian advance towards Vienna, and the 10th Corps was ordered to move directly to Vienna by railway. By 11 July Benedek's army was concentrated at Olmütz once again.

Moltke's main task in the aftermath of the battle was to find the Austrians and keep up the pressure on them. He ordered the Army of the Elbe to move south towards Iglau (now Jihlava), on the road from Prague to Brünn. The First Army was to move south to Prelouc, where the Elbe flowed west on its way towards Prague. On the Prussian left the Second Army was to make for Pardubitz, at the bend in the Elbe, and then continue south to Chrudim. As a result the Prussians were moving along a more westerly line than the Austrians.

The Prussians reached the Elbe south of the battlefield late on 5 July. They then back to move towards Brünn and by 11 July were with one day's march of that city. Benedek realised that he could no longer hold on at Olmütz, and he ordered most of his army to move along the railway towards Vienna. One corps would remain to defend Olmütz. The 3rd Corps was first to move, and was on its way by the evening of 11 July. Benedek also realised that the railway might soon be cut, and so prepared an alternative route down the valley of the River March, which ran west of the Carpathians and reached the Danube around Pressburg.

Once again the Prussians moved too quickly for the Austrians. On 13 July he ordered the Army of the Elbe to move south towards Znaim, a route that would eventually bring it to the Danube west of Vienna. The First Army was allowed to rest at Brünn. The Second Army was ordered to move east and block the railway line somewhere south of Olmütz.

Moltke's plans changed when his scouts reported that the Austrians were moving south-east from Olmütz towards Prerau. Early on 15 July Moltke halted the Army of the Elbe and First Army's moves towards Vienna, and ordered them instead to prepare to the possibility of another battle south of Olmütz. The Second Army continued to advance south-east to try and cut off the Austrian retreat.

On 15 July the two sides clashed at Tobitschau. On the previous day the advancing Prussians had found the leading troops in the Austrian column, from the 4th and 2nd Corps. On 15 July they also ran into part of 8th Corps but despite being outnumbered the Prussians were able to cut the route south.

Benedek was forced to adopt a longer and harder route, east across the Carpathians into the valley of the River Waag, which ran along the eastern side of the mountains, then south to Pressburg. This time the Austrians moved quickly, and by 17 July the Prussians had once again lost contract with the Austrian army.

Moltke decided to turn back towards the Danube, and head south on routes that would let him pick between Vienna and Pressburg as he got closer to the river. The First Army would move on the Prussian left, nearest to the Carpathians, with the task of reaching the river between Benedek's army could link up with the Austrian troops at Vienna. The Army of the Elbe was to head towards Vienna. The Second Army was to act as a reserve.

Von Moltke was right to be worried about the possibility of an Austrian revival. By 20 July the Austrians had 50,000 men around Vienna, including the first troops from the victorious army of the South. The lead elements of Benedek's army were approaching Pressburg, and if the two forces had united then the Austrians would have had a powerful army. However their political will had been broken, and peace negotiations were already underway.

Moltke was determined to win one more victory before the fighting ended. He decided to try and take Pressburg and sent the leading elements of the First Army to attack the city. Early on 22 July the Prussians, under General Fransecky, decided to attack the Austrian position at Blumenau, north-west of Pressburg. The Prussian attack began before news reached Fransecky that an armistice was to come into effect at noon. He decided to continue with the attack regardless of this news. This entirely pointless attack ended as another Prussian victory, with 88 dead and 414 wounded on the two sides. The battle ended at noon when the ceasefire came into effect.

Peace Talks and the End of the War

Peace negotiations began soon after the Prussian victory at Königgrätz. Bismarck's demands were impressively moderate - he wanted Austria to be excluded from all German affairs and the formation of a new Prussian-led North German Confederation. As the peace talks went on he changed his mind about the fate of the defeated northern German states, and decided to annex Schleswig-Holstein, Hanover, Hesse, Nassau and Frankfurt. He made no territorial demands of Austrian on Prussia's behalf, but did insist that Venetia should go to the Italians, despite their defeat in battle. The states south of the River Main would remain independent, and would be free to form a South German Confederation if they wished.

Franz Joseph offered little resistance to these demands. He was angered by the poor performance of his German allies, apart from the Saxons, and his only concern was that Saxony kept her independence (although he failed to achieve this). Napoleon III caused more problems, quickly becoming involved in the peace talks. Bismarck saw this as a breach of Napoleon's III agreed neutrality and was said to have been greatly angered by this move. However in practice Napoleon's intervention made little difference - any conflict with Prussia would have caused a split with his Italian allies, and Napoleon wasn't willing to take that risk. He did insist that there should be a plebiscite on its future in northern Schleswig, something that Bismarck was happy to concede. The vote didn't happen during Bismarck's time in power, but that was because of opposition from William I.

Bismarck's biggest problems came from his generals, who wanted to cross the Danube and complete the military defeat of Austria, with little idea of what they were trying to achieve. They were able to win over William I of Prussia, who couldn't understand why Bismarck was unwilling to take territory from Austria. He was also opposed to the removal of the northern German princes. Napoleon III's approval of the Prussian annexations in northern Germany arrived at just the right time, and Bismarck was able to convince the king that a five day truce should begin at noon on 22 July. Franz Joseph quickly agreed to the Prussian terms, but it needed the intervention of the Crown Prince to win over his father.

The Preliminary Peace was signed on 26 July. The truce between Prussia and Austria was extended to 2 August, when the formal armistice came into effect. 2 August also saw the end of the fighting on the German front. The war was formally ended by the Peace of Prague of 23 August 1866.

Rather unexpectedly the new North German Confederation ended up with a fairly liberal constitution, with a parliament elected by secret ballots, and an independent legal system. For the rest of his long period of power Bismarck ruled through the  new German parliament.

The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro-Prussian War 1866, Quintin Barry . Looks at the events of the war that saw Prussia become the dominant power in northern Germany, a key step on the road to German unification. Focuses on the military campaigns, the role of von Moltke in the war, the Austrian reaction and the clashes between the Prussian military and political establishments. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 July 2015), Austro-Prussian/ Seven Weeks War, June-August 1866 ,

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