1756 - Prussian invasion of Saxony – Invasion

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Campaigns >> 1756 - Prussian invasion of Saxony >> Invasion

The campaign lasted from August to October 1756

Introduction

The reversal of Alliances in Europe and the preparations of Austria and Prussia for the incoming conflict are described in our article Context and preparations (January 1 to August 26, 1756).

Frederick launches the invasion

When Frederick II realised what a formidable coalition was taking shape against Prussia, he decided to launch a "pre-emptive" invasion of Saxony. By a sudden raid into Saxony, he aimed to seize the line of the Elbe, in order to use the stretch of the river from Magdeburg to the Bohemian border to ease the resupply of his army there.

By mid August 1756, Prussian units totalling 65,000 men were on the move towards gathering points along the Saxon border. These gathering points were:

  • Halle and Aschersleben for the right column, under Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick, on the road to Leipzig
  • near Magdeburg and to the south of Potsdam in Beelitz, Saarmund, Zoffen and Königs-Wusterhausen for the centre column under King Frederick II on the road to Wittenberg and Torgau
  • Cöpenick, Müllrose and Bunzlau for the left column under the Duke of Brunswick-Bevern on the road to Bautzen in Lusatia.
Order of Battle
Detailed order of battle of Frederick's Army on August 26 1756

Detailed order of battle of Lehwaldt's Army on August 26 1756

Detailed order of battle of troops garrisoning Prussia on August 26 1756

All Prussian troops carried a three days supply of bread with them while their bread-wagons carried a further six days supply. Supernumeraries of the Prussian cavalry were still lacking horses which would be acquired in Saxony.

On August 26, Frederick gave orders to the Prussian Army to enter into Saxony. It would advance in 3 columns, each about 130 km from one another:

Beforehand, Frederick had conferred the chief command in Prussia on Field-Marshal Lehwaldt and that in Silesia to Field-Marshal Schwerin.

On the same day (August 26), Saxon commanders opened the envelopes sent to them earlier by their commander-in-chief , FM Rutowsky, containing orders to immediately march towards the strong camp prepared at Pirna, at the junction of the Elbe and Mulda rivers. The Saxon Army then counted some 18,000 men.

By August 27, Bayreuth Dragoons, Blanckensee Infantry, Braunschweig-Bevern Infantry and Manteuffel Infantry arrived at Cöpenick where they formed Bevern's right wing.

Early on August 28, Frederick set off from Potsdam towards Saxony. He expected a rapid victory over the Saxon Army which would allow him to redirect his march towards Silesia and then to launch an offensive into Bohemia. The same day, Markgraf Friedrich von Brandenburg Cuirassiers and Herzog von Württemberg Dragoons arrived at Saarmund; Anhalt-Dessau Infantry joined Frederick's Army; and Prinz von Preußen Infantry set off from Spandau and marched by Zoffen and Königs-Wusterhausen where it made a junction with Normann Dragoons. The Prinz von Preußen Cuirassiers reached Beelitz. By this date, Münchow Fusiliers and Prinz Ferdinand Infantry had not yet reached their assigned post and were still in Brandenburg.

The right Prussian column left Halle and advanced towards Leipzig.

On August 29, the Prussian Army entered into Saxony. Seven hussar squadrons of the right column took possession of Leipzig. Meanwhile, Oertzen Dragoons reached Guben. The same day, the Austrian Major-General Wied was placed at the head of Browne's vanguard (24 grenadier coys, 4 horse grenadier coys, 50 hussars and 6 pieces).

The rightmost Prussian column, itself subdivided into four sub-columns, continued its advance south-eastward from Leipzig, by Borna, Chemnitz, then eastward to Freiberg where it encamped on September 5 and 6. During its march, the right flank of this column was covered by its hussars who roamed in the area of Zwickau, Annaberg and Marienberg. These hussars reported that only weak Austrian detachments could be observed along the Bohemian border. Weapons captured in the arsenals of Zeitz and Weissenfels were conveyed to Torgau under the escort of Grenadier-Battalion Lengefeld who then joined Frederick's Army.

The centre Prussian column, under Frederick assisted by Marshal Keith, moved upstream along the Elbe River, subdivided into four sub-columns. At the head of each sub-column were some small mobile bridges to cross the smaller watercourses. The sub-columns went by Pretzsch and Torgau. Meanwhile, Wietersheim Fusiliers marched from Halle with provisions and the field-bakery; and II./Wied Fusiliers marched from Magdeburg to Elster with 10 pontoons. There, these two units threw a bridge across the Elbe. On September 2, Frederick's sub-column crossed the Elbe at Elster while the sub-columns under Margrave Karl and Winterfeldt both used the bridges of Torgau. Meanwhile the sub-column under Prince Moritz von Dessau was detached from the centre column to seize Wittenberg and destroy its defensive works. A convoy then arrived at Torgau from Magdeburg, escorted by the II. "Standing" Grenadier Battalion Ingersleben. It consisted of 298 boats, 8 mortars, ammunition, flour and provisions. From Torgau, Grenadier-Battalion Lengefeld escorted 180 boats carrying flour towards Dresden. II./Wied Fusiliers remained in Torgau as garrison to guard what would be the main Prussian magazine during this campaign. A field-hospital was established at Torgau and another at Meissen. The centre column then continued its advance along the southern bank of the Elbe through Lommatzsch, leaving Meissen to its left. On September 6, it encamped at Rothschönberg and finally reached Wilsdruf.

The left Prussian column, under Bevern, advanced to Lübben, then through Lusatia. It reached Kirchhain (August 31). The commander of the Castle of Senftenberg signed a pact of neutrality (September 1) and the Prussian column continued its march by Elsterheide, Hoyerswerda, Bautzen and Stolpen to Hohenstein (Sept. 8) then to Lohmen north of the Elbe near Pirna.

The Prussians met with no opposition during their advance. It was only at Wilsdruff that Frederick learned about the withdrawal of the Saxon Army towards the Pirna Country. The town of Torgau was fortified and mounted with guns found in various towns of Saxony. Some thousands of citizens and peasantry were forced to work at these fortifications. The Prussian military chest was placed in this town.

On August 30, the Austrian army assembling at Kolin finally received its artillery pieces (40 x 3-prd guns, 6 x 6-pdr guns, 4 x 7-pdr howitzers) along with ammunition wagons arriving from Budweis.

Order of Battle
Detailed order of battle of Browne's Army at Kolin at the end of August 1756

By the end of August, the Austrian army assembling at Kolin already counted 28 bns, 28 grenadier coys, 2 cuirassier rgts, 2 dragoon rgts. Furthermore, there were 4 bns, 4 grenadier coys, 2 cuirassier rgts, 2 dragoon rgts at Deutsch Brod (present-day Havlíčkův Brod); 14 bns, 14 grenadier coys at Olschan (present-day Olšany); 6 bns, 6 grenadier coys at Brünn (present-day Brno); and 3 cuirassier rgts and 1 dragoon rgt at Ungarisch-Hradisch (present-day Uherské Hradiště). Part of Baranyay Hussars and Festetics Hussars occupied advanced positions in front of Chrudim and Königgrätz (present-day Hradec Králové) to reconnoitre the frontier; while Simbschen Infantry and Morocz Hussars occupied outposts in Austria and Silesia. The third battalion of infantry regiments were sent to garrison various places: Erfurt (1 bn), Eger (2 bns), Prague (1 bn), Brünn (2 bns), and Olmütz (6 bns). Furthermore, Invalid battalions were stationed in Eger (2 bns) and Prague (1 bn).

By September 2, in front of the Prussian invasion, the Saxon Army (14,599 foot and 3,665 horse) had completed its retreat to Pirna Country, a very strong natural fortress. The wagons accompanying the Saxon Army transported provisions (flour and forage) for 20 days.

On September 3, Lieutenant-Colonel Warnery at the head of the Puttkamer Hussars took possession of the Castle of Stolpen. The same day, as the Prussians approached Dresden, the Elector of Saxony left the town with his two sons, Prince Xavier and Prince Charles, and his dignitaries. They all joined the Saxon Army at Pirna, establishing themselves in Struppen. The Elector's wife, Maria Josepha, and Prince Friedrich Christian remained in Dresden. She and her staff would during the following years (even during their exile in Munich) become the centre of the resistance of Saxony against the Prussia. Still the same day, Wied's Austrian Corps marched towards Aussig (present-day Ústí nad Labem) to keep open the line of communication with the Saxon Army. Indeed the War Council in Vienna still believed that the Saxons would try to retire towards Bohemia.

On September 5, the Prussian Szekely Hussars, who had been sent forward along the Elbe by Bevern, captured a vessel transporting provisions.

Frederic informed Friedrich August II, the Elector of Saxony, that he only intended to march through his country towards Bohemia. However, his behaviour was more in accordance to an invader.

By September 6, the three Prussian columns were respectively at Freiberg, Rothschönberg and Fischbach surrounding the small Saxon Army. Bevern had established magazines and a field-hospital at Stolpen. The same day in Vienna, a conference resolved to transfer 2 infantry rgts (Deutschmeister and Baden-Baden), 4 cuirassier rgts (Kalckreuth, Gelhay, Schmerzing and Portugal) and 2 hussar regts (Kálnoky Hussars and Nádasdy Hussars) from Hungary to Bohemia; and 1 infantry rgt (Puebla) and 3 cavalry rgts (Alt-Modena Cuirassiers, Herzog Württemberg Dragoons and Dessewffy Hussars) from Transylvania to Hungary. It also decided to accelerate the preparation of Grenzer units. In Italy, the Austrian infantry rgts made ready to march by Innsbrück and then along the Inn and Danube. The Erzherzog Leopold Cuirassiers along with 2 grenadier coy of the Tyrol militia should also march towards Bohemia. A Jägerkorps was raised in Bohemia. Simbschen Battalion was augmented to a regiment. The garrison battalions stationed in Inner Austria were sent to the northern border. Finally, the Austrian rgts stationed in the Netherlands were ordered to mobilize and 3 free companies were created to serve as garrison.

On September 7, a Prussian detachment arrived in Stolpen to replace the II./Brandes Fusiliers who had been guarding the magazines. Around this date, Browne sent reinforcements under Major-General Prince von Löwenstein (4 carabiner coys, 300 picked cuirassiers and 50 men from each of his infantry rgt, excluding Batthyányi and Kolowrat) to Wied.

On September 8, Major-General Wylich entered Dresden with Prussian units (II./Wied Fusiliers, Grenadier Battalion Wangenheim). Saxon army officers found in Dresden were taken prisoners. The rightmost Prussian column resumed its march by Dippoldiswalde to the village of Höckendorf , south of the Elbe near Pirna, where its infantry encamped while its 15 cuirassiers sqns made a junction with Frederick's Army, encamping at Willsdruff. The leftmost column marched to Hohnstein to cut the line of retreat of the Saxon Army. Its cavalry and its two hussar rgts making a junction with Frederick's Army. The king informed Ferdinand of Bruswick that he would lead the vanguard of the Prussian Army into Bohemia. Ferdinand should first occupy Peterswalde (present-day Petrovice) and Aussig; prevent the junction of the Saxon and Austrian armies; and intercept on the road between Peterswalde and Eylau any supply destined to the Saxons. Frederick gave Ferdinand ample autonomy to fulfil his mission. The same day, Bevern was informed by his hussars that irregular Austrian units (from 8,000 to 18,000 men) had advanced from Kolin to Friedland. However, new patrols revealed this information to be false.

At that time, the Saxon Prime Minister, Heinrich Count Brühl and the court, still refused any open cooperation with Browne's Austrian Army. They did not want “to provoke” Frederick and followed a politic of appeasement. Accrodingly the Saxon Army remained in the camp of Pirna.

On September 9, Frederick II himself entered Dresden with some regiments while his army encamped nearby. The same day, he resumed his advance towards the Pirna Country where he established his headquarters at Gross-Sedlitz. From the Castle of Gross-Sedlitz, he could see the camp of the Saxon Army. Meanwhile, Bevern's column encamped at Lohmen, leaving only 3 grenadier bns in Hohnstein. Furthermore, 2 sqns of Zieten Hussars occupied Hellendorf to secure the right wing. The same day, Browne dispatched further reinforcements (2 cavalry rgts, 3 infantry rgts and 6 pieces) to Wied

Browne was at the head of the Austrian main force (some 23,000 foot, 7,000 horse and 1,700 artillerymen), assembling in the Kolin region, destined to intervene in Saxony. Drašković was at the head of the Austrian Reserve Corps (which included one battalion of each of the following regiments: Karlstädter-Lykaner Grenzer, Karlstädter-Oguliner Grenzer, Karlstädter-Ottochaner Grenzer, Karlstädter-Szluiner Grenzer, Banal-Grenzinfanterieregiment nr. 1 and Banal-Grenzinfanterieregiment nr. 2) in Bohemia.

With Frederick's force immobilized by the small Saxon Army (18,000 men) entrenched at Pirna, it would have been hazardous for Schwerin to advance too deep into Bohemia with his Prussian Army of Silesia.

Continuation

The other phases of the campaign are described in the following articles:

  • Blockade of the Saxon entrenched camp of Pirna (September 10 to September 27, 1756) describing the Prussian manoeuvres to surround and blockade the Saxon entrenched camp of Pirna and the detachment of a Prussian corps towards the border with Western Bohemia to prevent any relief by the Austrians
  • Two relief attempts by the Austrian army (September 28 to October 17, 1756) describing Browne's first attempt to advance with the Austrian main army to relieve the Saxon army blockaded in Pirna, his second attempt with a picked force, the crossing of the Elbe by the Saxon army and its surrender at Ebenheit
  • Manoeuvres to take winter-quarters (October 18 to November 14, 1756) describing the manoeuvres of Prussian army to retire from the border with Western Bohemia and take its winter-quarters around Dresden

References

This article incorporates texts from the following books which are now in the public domain:

  • Anonymous, A Complete History of the Present War, from its Commencement in 1756, to the End of the Campaign, 1760, London, 1761
  • Archenholz, J. W., The History of the Seven Years War in Germany, translated by F. A. Catty, Francfort, 1843, pp. 10-30
  • Carlyle T., History of Friedrich II of Prussia vol. 17 chapters IV, V
  • Donnersmarck, Victor Amadaeus Henckel von, Militaerischer Nachlass, Karl Zabeler, 1858
    • Tagesbuch des Feldzuges von 1756, pp. 18-130
  • Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II, Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 1 Pirna und LobositzBerlin, 1901, pp. 62-104, 142, 150-151, 174-241, 251-260, 286-316
  • Schuster, O. and F. Francke: Geschichte der Sächsischen Armee, 2. part, Leipzig 1885
  • Tempelhoff, Fr., History of the Seven Years' War Vol. I Section 4, as translated by Colin Lindsay, Cadell, London, 1793
  • Vanicek, Fr.: Specialgeschichte der Militärgrenze aus Originalquellen und Quellenwerken geschöpft, Vol. II, Vienna: Kaiserlich-Königlichen Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1875, pp. 403-408

Other sources

Grossenhain, Geschichte des koeniglische Saechs, Koenigs-Husaren-Regiments No 18, Leipzig, 1901

Salisch, M. von: Treue Deserteure – Das kursächsische Militär und der Siebenjährige Krieg, Munich, 2009

Acknowledgement

Harald Skala for information on the Saxon Army during this period