Historical Dictionary of the French Second Empire, 1852-1870

By William E. Echard | Go to book overview

S

SADOWA (or KONIGGRATZ), the decisive battle of the Austro-Prussian or Seven Weeks' War. The war, which began 18 June 1866, was essentially a German civil war, despite the alliance of Italy with Prussia. It had been precipitated by Prussia's president of council, Otto von Bismarck, in order to exclude Austria from Germany and to permit Prussian dominance within a unified German state. Most German governments sided with Vienna. The decisive clash came on the morning of 3 July 1866 in Bohemia, between the villages of Sadowa and Königgrätz. The Battle of Sadowa, which involved some 220,000 men on each side, was the largest armed encounter before the great battles of the twentieth century and resulted in a resounding Austrian defeat.

Although Prussia's victory was widely attributed to superior weaponry (the needle-gun, cannons with rifled barrels) and use of such new instruments as the railroads and the telegraph, in reality the Austrians were deficient in leadership, both political and military, in strategic planning, and in tactical flexibility. While Prussia's chief of staff, General Helmuth von Moltke, daringly divided his forces into three armies, the Austrians moved into Bohemia in a concentrated mass. Early encounters ( Gitschin) resulted in demoralizing Austrian losses. Under pressure from Vienna, the Austrian commander, Marshal Ludwig von Benedek, launched an all-out attack on the center Prussian army near Sadowa. Although he had followed the Napoleonic maxim of seizing the inner lines (which may have been outdated by this time), Benedek had failed to take advantage in Napoleonic fashion of the separation of Prussian forces during early skirmishes. The unusually large number of troops under single command made the Austrian army virtually unmaneuverable and hence an easy target for encirclement by the Prussians, whose three-pronged advance was coordinated by Moltke in a daring and ultimately successful strategy. The battle, at first fiercely contested, was decided by the arrival on the field of the army of Prussian Crown Prince Frederick William about 12:30 P.M. Soon the Austrian retreat became a rout. The Prussian armies had lost about two thousand dead, seven thousand wounded; the Austrian six thousand dead, seventeen thousand wounded, and twenty thousand prisoners. The way to Vienna was open.

Sadowa changed the situation of France in Europe. Napoleon III had foreseen

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