Austro-Prussian War

Prussia, Italy — versus — Austria

The Austro-Prussian War lasted only seven weeks and was fought for the purpose of reducing Austrian influence over the northern German states. Since the rise of the Hapsburgs in the 16th century, Austria had been a leading power among German-speaking states and she dominated the German confederation. Prussia was ambitious for power and territory but her plans were frustrated by the southern Empire. Otto von Bismarck was the mastermind of Prussian statecraft, and it was his design to create an alliance of Northern German states that Prussia could dominate, but this would involve breaking up the existing confederation and forming a new one without Austria. The politics, however, were extremely difficult. Prussia needed to avoid being seen as overly aggressive so it could draw independent German duchies into its sphere of influence. At the same time the Prussians needed to prevent any of the major powers of Europe from coming to the aid of Austria. Generating the desired outcome from a war with Austria depended as much on diplomacy as it did on military victories.

Austro-Prussian War
The events leading up to the Austro-Prussian war make sense when one understands that their whole purpose was to alienate Austria from its northern European allies and provoke them into declaring war. Following the Schleswig-Holstein War, Prussia had generously given Austria control of Holstein, knowing there were ongoing disputes about how the newly independent province should be governed. Instead of remaining neutral, Prussia intervened on the side of Holstein and then interfered with Austria's preferred method of resolving the dispute diplomatically. At the same time she made secret alliances with Italy and France and did everything possible to prepare for war while provoking Austria. Prussia's outstanding generals, led by Helmuth von Moltke, prepared for every contingency, and acquired the most modern available weapons for their troops.

As soon as Austria declared war Prussia's allies in Northern Italy, led by Victor Emmanuel II, attacked Venetia in the south, forcing Austria to divide her forces. At the same time, Prussia moved quickly to prevent Austria from getting any help from the north. Most of the states in the German confederation supported Austria but before they could mobilize their armies, Prussia's forces cut them off. Having tied up Austria's forces in the south and cut off the possibility of any other assistance, Prussia moved most of its forces to Bohemia to prepare for a showdown. The Austrian general was not eager for battle, and encouraged a negotiated solution, but the Emperor insisted he take a stand, so at Koniggratz, two armies of over 250,000 met in a titanic battle. Austria held on for most of the morning, but when Prussian reinforcements arrived at mid-day, the Austrian effort collapsed with a loss of over 30,000 men.

Instead of pressing for additional territory, Prussia chose to negotiate a treaty after the victory at Koniggratz. This was because Bismarck wanted Austria as an ally in the long term and did not want to inflict lasting damage. His dream was to create a German Empire in the north under Prussian control, leaving Austria as master of the south. According to the terms of the Peace of Prague, Prussia annexed Schleswig-Holstein, Hannover, and several other duchies; the German confederation was dissolved and replaced by a Northern confederation; and Austria was forced to cede control of her Venetian territory to Italy. These terms decreased Austria's prestige among the German states, but left most of her empire intact.

In one blow, Prussia had made herself one of the dominant states in Europe. And France, the country who could have prevented this turn of events by making an alliance with Austria, had much to regret. Napoleon III suddenly recognized the threat a United Germany could pose, but it was too late, and no country would suffer more than France for his failure.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Custozza (3rd Italian Unity ) Austrians victory
Fought June 24, 1866, between 60,000 Austrians under the Archduke Albert, and 140,000 Italians under General La Marmora. La Marmora crossed the Mincio, and advanced against the Archduke, who was covering Verona. The Italians having to pass through a hilly country, the columns were much broken up, and as they debouched into the plain of Custozza, they were beaten in detail, and driven back by the Austrians, who gained a signal victory. The Austrians lost 4,650 killed and wounded; the Italians, 720 killed, 3,112 wounded, and 4,315 prisoners. La Marmora was compelled to recross the Mincio.
Battle of Lissa (3rd Italian Unity ) Austrians victory
The only naval action between ironclads in European waters, fought July 20, 1866, between the Austrian fleet of 7 armoured ships and some obsolete wooden vessels, under Admiral Tegethoff, and the Italian fleet of to armour-clads, under Admiral Persano. Tegethoff attacked in wedge formation, with his flagship as the apex, and broke the line of the Italian fleet, which was steaming, line ahead, across his bows. He rammed and sank the Italian flagship, and the rest of the action was a melee in which the Italians were defeated and driven off, with a loss of 3 ships and over 1,000 men. This defeat forced the Italians to raise the siege of Lissa.
Battle of Podol   Prussians victory
Fought June 26, 1866, between the advance-guard of Prince Frederick Charles' army, and the Austrians, under General Clam-Gallas. The Austrians were defeated and driven out of Podol, after severe fighting, in which they lost heavily. The Prussians took 500 prisoners.
Battle of Langensalza   Prussians victory
Fought June 27, 1866, between 12,000 Prussians, under General Flies, and the Hanoverians, in about equal strength, under George, King of Hanover. The Prussians attacked the Hanoverian position, and after severe fighting were repulsed with a loss of about 1,400 killed and wounded, and 900 prisoners. The Hanoverians lost 1,392. The victory, however, was fruitless, as the Prussians in the neighbourhood were in overwhelming numbers, and the King was compelled to surrender on the 29th. This is the last appearance of Hanover in history as an independent state.
Battle of Nachod   Prussians victory
Fought June 27, 1866, between the 5th Prussian Corps, under General Steinmetz, and the Austrians, under General Ramming. The Austrian cavalry, which was considerably superior in number, was defeated by the Prussian Uhlans, and the action resulted in the retreat of the Austrians, with a considerable loss in killed and wounded. The Prussians, who lost 900, captured 2,000 prisoners and 5 guns.
Battle of Trautenau   Austrians victory
Fought June 27, 1866, between the First Prussian Army Corps, under General von Bonin, and the 10th Austrian corps, under General Gablenz. The Prussians at first drove back the Austrians, but General Gablenz advancing in force, fell upon the Prussians, wearied with a long march, and compelled them to retreat, with a loss of 1,277 killed and wounded. Owing to the superiority of the needle-gun, the Austrians, though victorious, suffered a loss of 5,732.
Battle of Münchengratz   Prussians victory
Fought June 28, 1866, between the advance-guard of Prince Frederick Charles' army, and the Austrians, under Count Clam-Gallas. The Austrians were defeated with a loss of about 300 killed and wounded, and 1,000 prisoners. The Prussian losses were very small.
Battle of Skalitz   Prussians victory
Fought June 28, 1866, between the 5th Prussian Army Corps, under General Steinmetz, and the 6th and 8th Austrian Corps, under General Ramming. The Austrians were defeated, and Skalitz occupied by the Prussians, who captured 4,000 prisoners and 8 guns.
Battle of Gitschin   Prussians victory
Fought June 29 and 30, 1866, between the Prussians, 16,000 strong, under Prince Frederick Charles, and the Austrians and Saxons, 30,000 strong, under Count Clam Gallas. The Austrians were defeated, and driven from all their positions with a loss of 3,000 killed and wounded, and 7,000 prisoners.
Battle of Koeniggratz   Prussians victory
Fought July 3, 1866, between 200,000 Austrians, with 600 guns, under Marshal Benedek, and the Prussian armies of Prince Frederick Charles and the Crown Prince, together about equal to the Austrians in number, The Austrians, who occupied a very strong position, were attacked in the early morning by Prince Frederick Charles, who, however, made little impression upon them, and it was not till the arrival of the Crown Prince on their right flank at 2 p.m. that any advantage was obtained. Then, however, the Prussians succeeded in piercing the Austrian lines, and seized the key of the position, after which further resistance being hopeless, the Austrians retired, with a loss of 20,000 killed and wounded, 20,000 prisoners, and 174 guns. The Prussians lost 10,000.
Battle of Kissingen   Prussians victory
Fought July 10, 1866, between the Prussians, under General Falkenstein, and the Bavarians, under General Zoller. The Bavarians were defeated and driven out of Kissingen with heavy loss.

Short Biography
Helmuth von Moltke Military mastermind of the Austro-Prussian, and Franco-Prussian Wars.
Franz Joseph I Emperor of Austria during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Kaiser William I First Kaiser of a United German Empire. With Bismarck as Chancellor, defeated Austria and France.
Victor Emmanuel II Became first king of a United Italy after Garibaldi handed over control of Naples. Previously Savoyard King of Sardinia.
Otto von Bismarck Prussian statesman and mastermind of German Unification. Strategically provoked wars against Austria and France.

Story Links
Book Links
The Conquest of Germany  in    by  
Struggle Between Austria and Prussia  in  The History of Germany  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
The Expansion of Germany  in  Nations of Europe and the Great War  by  Charles Morris
Founding the German Empire  in  Growth of the British Empire  by  M. B. Synge
Koniggratz  in  The Boy's Book of Battles  by  Eric Wood
The German War  in  The History of Prussia  by  John S.C. Abbott

Image Links

Emperor William
 in Bismarck and the Foundation of the German Empire

Emperor Francis Joseph
 in Bismarck and the Foundation of the German Empire

 in Bismarck and the Foundation of the German Empire