Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Königgrätz. This was the decisive battle of the Austro-Prussian War, in which the Kingdom of Prussia, commanded by Helmuth von Moltke, defeated the Austrian Empire, commanded by Ludwig Van Benedek.
In the introduction to Quintin Barry’s study, The Road To Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro-Prussian War, he writes:
The battle of Königgrätz was in terms of the numbers engaged the greatest encounter of the modern era up to that time. Between 440,00 and 460,00 troops took part in the battle, which was the first encounter between armies of the Great Powers to demonstrate the changes in warfare that had been wrought by the developments in technology. But […] it was not technology which decided the outcome, but the qualities of the Prussian troops and their leadership.
The result of this battle shifted the power away from Austria and towards Prussia. However, the Prussian army didn’t walk away unscathed.
In Bruce Bassett-Powell’s illustrated history The Armies of Bismark’s Wars: The Army of Prussia – History, Uniforms, Weapons & Equipment, 1860-1867, he describes the scene after the battle:
As all three Prussian armies finally converged on the plain where the cavalry fights had taken place, just an hour earlier, it became evident that the victory was something less than a Cannae. A large portion of the Austrian Army – nearly 180,000 men – had escaped across the Elbe, and most of the Prussian high command had no idea that it was nothing more than a rabble, without a single effective unit. However, the enthusiasm for pursuit was tempered by the act that the Prussian armies themselves were disorganized, and, at the moment, somewhat unmanageable… Moltke had decided that a general pursuit within the next 24 hours was impractical. He surmised, correctly, that Benedek’s army would not be effective fighting force any time soon, and that the road to Vienna would remain open.
Following this battle, the Prussian army continued to defeat the Austrian army, until the Peace of Prague was signed on August 23rd.
To learn more about the Battle of Königgrätz and the Austro-Prussian War, check out the two books below.