Prussian Army in the Austro-Prussian War


Austro-Prussian War, or the German War, was the result of a series of political and economic conflicts that had been going on between Prussia and Austria for more than a century. Establishment of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1701 inevitably caused a rivalry between these two nations. Austria had been the leader of the Holy Roman Empire for centuries and its de-facto rule over entire Germany had been recognized. Prussia’s policy had not been to openly oppose the sovereignty of Austria until Frederick the Great inherited the throne in 1740. He deemed Austria’s strength only in appearance and he aimed to destroy its image as the ultimate ruler of Germany. As soon as he was crowned, he immediately began an invasion of Silesia, which was an Austrian territory at the time. His army was well-trained and disciplined and his high command included some of the best generals of the time. Frederick waged war against the Austrians multiple times for a decade. His conquest of Silesia drastically helped Prussia’s struggling economy and brought in unprecedented riches.


After Frederick, Prussia’s policy of becoming the ultimate ruler of Germany forced the Prussians to contest Austria at every chance. Other German states eventually fell under the influence of either side and this created a small-scale cold war in 19th century Germany. In 1866, Germany was split between the two giants. Most of the southern states sided with Austria against the Prussian menace. Even in the north some of the larger states sided with Austria, such as Hanover and Saxony. Prussia seemed to be in a tough spot from outside. Otto von Bismarck managed to conceal Prussia’s true strength in order to keep outside powers such as France out of the war. Many people expected a Prussian defeat in the upcoming war. However, Prussian General Staff, under the leadership of Helmuth von Moltke and Albrecht von Roon, made sure that the army was ready for a war. In addition, Bismarck signed a treaty with the Italians on 8 April 1866. According to this treaty, Prussia and Italy were going to fight together against Austria. Italians’ main objective in this war was to invade Venice, which was under Austrian sovereignty.



Prussia declared war on Austria on 14 June 1866. As far as the numbers were concerned, Austria and its allies seemed overwhelmingly strong compared to Prussia and its allies. However, Prussian battleplans and highly effective mobilization changed the course of the war pretty quickly. Moltke always marched the Prussian army in separate groups and consolidated them after the arrival at the battlefield. This way, Prussians could easily avoid unwanted skirmishes and choose their own ground at the right time. Prussian armies were scattered all around Germany. Many brigades were sent to Bavaria, Hanover, Bohemia and Saxony. The main force of the army, however, marched onto Bohemia, where Austrian headquarters were located. Prussians won a series of victories on different fronts at once. The main victory, however, took place in Bohemia. On 3 July 1866, Prussian and Austrian armies of equal numbers (around 200.000 each side) confronted in Königgratz. Prussians crushed the Austrian forces and won a decisive victory.


Seeing their armies get dissipated in German front, while still experiencing heavy losses against the Italians in the Alpine Campaign, Austria quickly sued for peace. The Prussian victory was swift and conclusive. However, the idea of peace was not welcome in the minds of the most Prussians, including King Wilhelm himself. Prussians wanted to march onto Wien and destroy their long-time enemy. Bismarck, on the other hand, severely opposed this idea. To him, Austria was a potential ally in the future ambitions of Prussia. He threatened Wilhelm with resignation should the peace was to be rejected. Wilhelm finally consented and approved the ceasefire. Peace talks were not long, as the Austrians were not in a position to stand against the Prussian demands. The Treaty of Prague was signed on 26 July 1866.


According to the treaty, the German Confederation, led by Austria, was abolished. Instead, North German Confederation and South German Confederation were established. North was under definite Prussian control and the Southern states, Württemberg and Bavaria were independent. In 5 years, they submitted to Prussian hegemony and recognized Wilhelm as the Emperor of all Germany. Furthermore, Austria agreed to cede Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia and Venice to Italy. With the German War, the fate of Germany was determined. The outcome of this war affected the events of the 20th century and its influence in social life can still be seen in German speaking countries.


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