1758-10-14 - Battle of Hochkirch

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Battles and Encounters >> 1758-10-14 - Battle of Hochkirch

Austrian Victory

Prelude to the Battle

At the beginning of August 1758, after the aborted invasion of Moravia by Frederick II, the Austrian Army cautiously proceeded to the invasion of Saxony where it slowly advanced while Frederick had to run to the relief of General Dohna who was facing a Russian invasion in Brandenburg.

By mid-September, Frederick had managed to stop the Russian advance at Zorndorf. Meanwhile, Field marshal Daun had decided against the risk of a march on Berlin, planning instead to capture the city of Dresden.

Understanding the danger, Frederick quickly retraced his steps to Saxony and, by September 10, before Daun could prevent it, he reappeared with his army near Dresden and joined forces with his brother Prince Henri and the Margrave Carl.

Around Dresden there were now roughly 80,000 Prussians and more or less the same amount of Austrians, another 30,000 Austrians were besieging the fortresses of Neisse (present-day Nysa) and Kosel (present-day Koźle). Frederick was longing for the Austrians to attack him since, for once, he was not outnumbered. However Daun decided not to accept a pitched battle. He remained inactive in this camp for several days.

On October 1, by a daring manoeuvre, a Prussian Corps outflanked Daun and reoccupied Bautzen. Daun then moved his camp to Kittlitz, near Löbau, blocking the road to Zittau and covering at distance the besieging corps around Neisse.

On October 10, while marching to the relief of Neisse, Frederick found his way barred by the Austrian Army. He then encamped in a position dangerously close to Daun's camp, despite the advice of his generals.

The position that the Austrian Field Marshal had chosen was just as hard to capture as his former camp at Stolpen. Frederick made plans to turn the right flank of the Austrian lines but the manoeuvre had to be postponed for four days, because the Prussians had to wait for a convoy of supplies from Dresden.

An Austrian council of war held in the evening of October 13, finally produced a daring plan conceived by Lacy for an attack to be delivered by multiple columns during the night of October 13 to 14.

The Austrian plan was to divide the main army under Daun and Lacy into two columns that started to converge on the southern corner of the Prussian lines using the Kuppritzer-Berg to cover their movements until, thanks to a rather thick fog, it would have been too late for the Prussian pickets in Hochkirch to sound the alarm.

Two more columns, one under O’Donnell with de Ligne Infantry and Hessen-Darmstadt Dragoons among others, and the other under Loudon, with Nádasdy Hussars and Dessewffy Hussars in the lead were to approach Hochkirch from rear and flank.

Other columns of different strength under Wiese, FML Count Colloredo, Arenberg and Buccow, were entrusted the task of enveloping the Prussian position aiming at pinning down the centre and overturning the left flank at Rodewitz.

Map and initial deployment

Sketch of situation around 5:00 AM at Hochkirch - Source: Zahn
Map of the battle of Hochkirch - Source: "With Frederick the Great" by A. Henty


Hochkirch stood on a hilltop dominating the area for km round on all sides except south where it met other heights gradually rising into higher hills. The village hung on the crown and north slope of the height. A solid village with very narrow alleys, reaching down to the northern levels. The church, more a small cathedral than a country church, was near the top. Its churchyard was surrounded by a sturdy stockade that might provide some cover for troops intended to fight to the last man.

Among the hills to south was one called Czorneboh (Devil's Hill). Thereabouts, and close from Hochkirch southward, extended thickets and wild wood. Northward too from Hochkirch, and all about the scene was woody.

Loudon and 4,237 Grenzers (Slavonisch-Gradiskaner Grenzer, Warasdiner-Sankt Georger Grenzer and Warasdiner-Creutzer Grenzer) and grenadiers stood in the village of Wuischke at the northern base of the Czorneboh. He formed the extreme left of Daun's position. Wuischke was nearly straight south of Hochkirch 1,6 km to east of Daun's general position. Frederick's right wing, commanded by Keith, stretched to Hochkirch and a little farther. Beyond Hochkirch, it had four flank battalions en potence with proper vedettes and pickets of Freikorps and, above all, with a strong battery of 20 guns on the next height immediately adjoining Hochkirch. Frederick's right wing was unaware of the proximity of Loudon.

Frederick's position extended about 6,5 km from Hochkirch northward sprinkled about in all the villages and points of strength, as far up as Drehsa and beyond Drehsa, to near Kotitz, a smaller village. His centre was at Rodewitz where his own headquarters stood more than 3 km north of Hochkirch. His strength in these lines was some 28,000 men.

In the north under Manteuffel, forming the extreme left of the army, there were 9 battalions, mostly grenadiers entrenched in a very exposed position, screening the village of Rodewitz where Frederick had chosen to spend the night. Four more battalions were stationed between the hamlet of Niethen and the village of Wawitz roughly 400 meters from Rodewitz. Not far from Rodewitz, but a little to left and ahead, stood his second and best battery of 30 guns ready to play upon the village of Lauske and its roadway.

The extreme left of the Prussian deployment was completed by five regiments of cuirassiers and dragoons under Seydlitz between Rodewitz and the village of Drehsa, a little more 1,6 km in the back.

In the centre, along the main road, linking Rodewitz to Hochkirch and scattered for about 1,5 km there were 12 battalions of infantry and four regiments of cuirassiers under Charles of Brunswick and Zieten. A small force of dragoons and cuirassiers was deployed on both sides of the small village of Pommritz , guarding the rear of the main army.

The right wing of the army under Forcade was camped in and around the village of Hochkirch and south of it, among orchards and woods. Three grenadiers and two Freikorps battalions plus some jäger companies and hussar squadrons provided cover for an artillery redoubt with 20 12-pdrs and 6 lighter pieces. This southern part of the Prussian lines was dominated by a hill called Kuppritzer-Berg whose wooded slopes were already giving cover to a substantial number of Grenzers.

Finally, Retzow with about 11,000 men lay some 7 km to northeast, in and behind Weissenberg. The overall strength of the Prussian army was about 40,000 men.

Daun's force counted 90,000 men. His headquarters were at Kittlitz, a village some 3 km short of Löbau and about 8 km to southeast of Rodewitz. It was close upon the Bautzen-Zittau highway with Zittau some 32 km to south of it. Kittlitz lay more to south than Hochkirch itself and Daun's outposts enveloped Frederick's right flank. But Daun's main force lay chiefly northward and well to west of Kittlitz, parallel to Frederick and eastward of him, in elaborate entrenchments. Every village, brook, bridge, height and bit of good ground, Stromberg to end with, were punctually secured. The 20,000 men of the right wing, under d'Arenberg, held the Stromberg (occupied by 5 grenadier bns with artillery) and certain villages to south-east and to north-west of it. They were formed en potence looking into Kotitz. In a good measure they divided Frederick from Retzow's Corps. Prince of Baden-Durlach with 25,000 men was kept in reserve in front of Reichenbach, some 14 km to east of that position, barring the Silesian road to Retzow. Daun's lines were considerably longer than Frederick's and also considerably deeper. The two headquarters were about 8 km apart, but the two fronts were not a km apart, being divided by a brook and good hollow. Towards Hochkirch the opposing posts were crammed quite close, divided only by the hollow. Many brooks, each with a definite hollow, ran there, especially Löbau Water which received them all.

The Church and the Blutgasse, note the cannonball still stuck in the church tower half way up
A door with musket ball holes, about 15 m behind the main gate of the church that faces south
View looking south
Photos and legends contributed by Tony Flores


Description of Events

On Friday October 13, after nightfall, Daun with the pick of his force (30,000 horse and foot) and all their artilleries and tools silently left his position in front of Hochkirch and swept off silently to southward and leftward by Wuischke, then westward and northward by the northern base of the Czorneboh, through the shaggy hollows and thick woods, till he had fairly got to the flank of Hochkirch. Then, with troops advancing on Meschwitz, Steindörfel and even north to Waditz, he enclosed the Prussian Army as in the bag of a net. Then Daun Corps waited until 5:00 a.m.

Meanwhile, d'Arenberg's Corps, forming the right wing of the Austrian Army, marched in two columns and deployed behind Koditz with its left to the Stromberg and its right to Weiche. The role of this corps was to attack the Prussian left wing and prevent it from supporting its right wing.

Neither Frederick nor any of his people had the least suspicion of Daun's project till the moment it exploded on them, when the clock at Hochkirch struck five. The Prussians had vedettes, pickets and small outposts of Freikorps scattered about in front of the Austrian lines. They also had guard-parties in the big battery to south-east of Hochkirch and along their potence of four battalions. Zieten with his cavalry was stationed to the right of this potence. The rest of the Prussian army was still asleep while Daun stood waiting for the stroke of five.

At 5:00 a.m. on October 14, Daun burst in with his 30,000 men. Musket fire could be heard from the Prussian main line, coming from the advanced positions held by the Freikorps. Since skirmishes with Grenzers were frequent, the Prussian command did not pay attention. However, the firefight gaining intensity, the 3 Prussian grenadier battalions (Grenadier Battalion 41/44 Beneckendorff, Grenadier Battalion 21/27 Diringshofen and Grenadier Battalion 3/6 Plotho) positioned en potence to the right of Hochkirch left their encampment and marched to the enemy. They clashed with Daun's Corps. The Prussian battalions forming the potence did not run, but when repulsed by the endless odds, rallied again. Grenadier Battalion 41/44 Beneckendorff suffered heavy losses, being charged by Loudon's squadron while retreating.

From 5:30 a.m. till towards 8:00 a.m., there was a general blaze of fiery infantry fighting on the Prussian right wing. Zieten managed to gather his cavalry and to fight back the assaulting Austrians. Indeed, Zieten Hussars and Czettritz Dragoons, who had kept their mounts saddled, where nevertheless surprised. For a time, he was able to put them into flight and rescued the Prussian prisoners before being forced to retire.

It was probably not till towards 6:00 a.m. that the Prussian right wing became generally aware that it was facing a major attack. A thick fog had fallen, blotting out all vestiges of daylight, nobody could well say. Forcade Infantry was the first regiment to come to the rescue of the three struggling grenadier battalions. It drove back some Austrian battalions before being turned by Löwenstein Dragoons and overwhelmed.

Memorial stone of Major Lange in the churchyard of Hochkirch, photo made by H. Skala

Daun then paused to reorganise his corps before launching it against the big battery (10 x 12-pdrs) near Hochkirch defended by I./Margraf Carl Infantry. The big battery was not captured without fierce and dogged struggle and was retaken more than once or twice. Daun's Corps then captured the big battery to left and the village of Hochkirch to rear, and did extensive ruin on the whole right wing of Frederick.

Still fiercer was the struggle in Hochkirch village, especially in Hochkirch church and churchyard where the II./Margraf Carl Infantry had flung itself in the churchyard while I./Geist took position in the gardens and II./Geist moving to the left of the village attacked the captured battery.

Epitaph of Marshall Keith in the Church of Hochkirch, photo made by H. Skala

About 6:30 a.m., Keith, who had charge of this wing, understood that his big battery was taken and that it must be retaken. He sprang on horseback, hastily took Kannacher Infantry and several remnants of others and rushed upwards direct upon the big battery. Keith recaptured this big battery. He then managed to push the Austrians back into the night, pursuing them up to the heights where 3 Austrian grenadier bns were posted. These grenadiers then fell upon on both flanks of Keith's force and obliged it to draw back in turn. The Austrians did not bring their guns with them but rather those which they captured in the Prussian outposts. Keith requested support but could get no response or reinforcement. At length, quite surrounded and overwhelmed, Keith had to retire. While retiring, he was shot through the heart and fell dead.

At this moment, Zieten's cavalry (Zieten Hussars and Czettritz Dragoons, supported by Baron von Schönaich Cuirassiersand Normann Dragoons) charged the Austrian grenadiers. Thanks mainly to Zieten's cavalry, the Austrians could make nothing on the rear of the Prussian right flank even though Loudon had gained the area near Steindörfel.

Night attack on the village of Hochkirch - Source: Carl Röchling, 1895

The poor village of Hochkirch soon took fire while Markgraf Carl Infantry stood with invincible stubbornness till its cartridges were spent. Some remnant of the regiment actually got through. By then, only 11 bns and 25 sqns of Frederick's Army had been engaged.

It was probably the news of Keith's repulse that first roused Frederick to a full sense of what was now going on, 3 km to south of him. Indeed, he had initially dismissed the attack as a mere skirmish between Grenzers and Prussian pickets. Frederick immediately pushed forward several battalions, under Franz of Brunswick with Margrave Carl and Prince Moritz, towards Hochkirch. He himself sprang on horseback to deal with the affair. Prinz von Preußen Infantry advanced to the right of Hochkirch while Itzenplitz Infantry marched against the village, supported by the rallied Kannacher Infantry led by Margrave Carl. Meanwhile Prince Moritz took the head of Forcade Infantry and attacked the Austrians. This assault momentarily drove the Austrians out of the village. The Gens d'Armes along with Zieten Hussars and Normann Dragoons charged the Austrian infantry once more while the Garde du Corps, Leib-Carabiniers and Bredow Cuirassiers repulsed the Austrian cavalry, before being driven back by superior forces. The Austrian cavalry then charged Prinz von Preußen Infantry and Itzenplitz Infantry who were forced to evacuate Hochkirch and to fall back with sore loss. During this engagement, Prince Franz of Brunswick, as he approached Hochkirch, had his head shorn off by a cannonball. Prince Moritz of Dessau got badly hit and, while being driven to Bautzen for surgery, was made prisoner by Grenzers.

By this time, Frederick himself was forward in the thick of the tumult with another body of battalions (Wedell, Retzow, Bornstedt and II./Garde ). They progressed up to Hochkirch but were soon taken in flank and rear by the Austrian cavalry. Frederick had his horse shot under and found, as the mist gradually sank, a ring of Austrians massed ahead on the heights as far as Steindörfel and farther. The question of his right flank was settled to the advantage of the Austrians and the question now was of his front, which the appointed Austrian parties were now upon attacking. The heights of Drehsa and of the pass and brook of Drehsa, to the rear of the Prussian centre where the only places through which the Prussian could hope to retreat now that Steindörfel was lost.

Frederick rapidly took new measures, despatching Möllendorf with the III./Garde to seize Drehsa Heights which would now be key of the field. Möllendorf got hold of Drehsa Heights before the Austrian could. Meanwhile, Prussian General Saldern took post on the heights between Rodewitz and Pommritz, Grenadier Battalion 12/39 Pieverlingk occupied the height of Kuppritz and Grenadier Battalion 37/40 Manteuffel the height of Niethen. These two grenadier battalions prevented the column of Count Colloredo to debouch between Kuppritz and Plotzen. Zieten also cooperated by taking hold of the Heights of Kumschutz, Canitz and other points of vantage. He also formed a new compact front against the Austrians in that south-western part of his line. The Austrians did not try it farther but retired when they realised that Mollendorf and Zieten had seized these key positions. Frederick also despatched instant order to Retzow, to join him at his speediest. Frederick then rearranged his troops into a new line of battle extending from Drehsa to Kuppritz, hoping to dispute what was left of the field. Part of the Prussian cavalry stood in the second line while the rest, under Seydlitz, took position in the plain of Belgern to repulse the Austrian cavalry.

By 8:00 a.m., the fog had started to clear and the Austrians stood visible on their ring of heights all round: behind Hochkirch, on to westward and northward, as far as Steindörfel and Waditz. Daun reorganised his line of battle, deploying his corps between Hochkirch and Steindörfel. His cavalry took position between the latter village and Jenkwitz to threaten the line of retreat of the Prussian Army. Daun then paused, awaiting the results of the attacks of d'Arenberg and Durlach.

Indeed, in front of the Prussian centre, to eastward, the appointed Austrian parties were proceeding to attack. Duke d'Arenberg, on the Austrian extreme right, was charged to burst in upon the Prussian left wing as soon as he saw Hochkirch taken. On Frederick left, Saldern sent Alt-Braunschweig Infantry to the heights of Pommritz to reinforce Frederick's main line. He also moved Grenadier Battalion Rathenow to the heights in front of Rodewitz while Grenadier Battalion Heyden covered the defile of Rodewitz and Grenadier Battalion Wangenheim occupied the big battery (30 guns) planted in front of the defile to the north of Rodewitz. Other units of Frederick left wing remained at their former positions.

Around 8:00 a.m., d'Arenberg tried to move across the defile of Koditz but his first column was stopped by the fire of Grenadier Battalion Kleist. D'Arenberg soon paused for a good while. During this time, his second column under the command of d'Ursel dislodged the Prussian jägers from Lauske and then forced Grenadier Battalion Alt Billerbeck and Grenadier Battalion Rohr to retire towards Rodewitz. D'Ursel's column was now in position to turn the Prussian left wing and to attack the battery defended by Grenadier Battalion Wangenheim. Seeing this Grenadier Battalion Heyden left its position at the defile and came to the rescue of the battery. The two Prussian battalions then opposed a stubborn resistance to the advancing Austrian column.

D'Arenberg, who had been reinforced with 7 bns from Durlach's reserve, managed to move across the defile of Koditz and to attack the positions defended by Grenadier Battalion Kleist, Grenadier Battalion Unruh, the Prussian jägers and Puttkamer Hussars (5 sqns). Krockow Dragoons rushed to their support. However, all they could accomplish was to make the retreat of the hussars possible. The two grenadiers battalions finally had to surrender while the Prussian jägers (now less than 80 men) managed to retire in good order.

D'Arenberg and d'Ursel then concentrated their efforts against Grenadier Battalion Wangenheim and Grenadier Battalion Heyden defending the battery in front of Rodewitz. Seeing that resistance would be useless, the Prussian grenadiers retired under enemy fire to the heights behind Rodewitz, abandoning the battery. D'Arenberg then reorganised his lines and contented himself of observing passively the Prussian retreat.

Still further east, Retzow with his 12,000 men had received orders from Frederick to abandon his position and to join him as soon as possible with his corps. However, Baden-Durlach's 20,000 Austrians of the Reserve were about to attack him. Indeed, as Retzow was taking dispositions to retire, the Prince of Löwenstein appeared on the left flank of his positions with 4 bns and 3 cavalry rgts extending up to Krischau. The Prince of Württemberg moved across the village at the head of the Bayreuth Dragoons and Werner Hussars, charged and drove back the Austrian cavalry. Retzow, who was eager to join Frederick, took advantage of this success, first retired behind the Löbau Water and then marched as fast as he could to the relief of Frederick. The Prince of Württemberg led his vanguard consisting of 4 bns and 10 dragoon sqns (Jung Platen Dragoons and Herzog Württemberg Dragoons). Retzow's vanguard was successively attacked by Buccow at the head of 2 cuirassier rgts near Nehern and by the 7 bns previously detached by Durlach. However these attacks could not stop his advance.

Meanwhile, Frederick could not attempt any assault of the Austrian line as long as Retzow would not join him. The Prince of Württemberg, unable to break through the Austrian positions to make a junction with Frederick, made a detour through the plain of Burschwitz. He finally showed up, beautifully wending down from Weissenberg and skilfully posted itself at Belgern, menacing d'Arenberg flanks. Retzow soon followed, quickly posting himself to paralyse any initiative from d'Arenberg. It was now 10:00 a.m..

During his retreat, Retzow had deployed one battalion of Rebentisch Infantry and two 12-pdrs at the defile of Regemuhl and a further 4 bns on the heights between Kannewitz and Wurschen to stop or delay the reserve of Durlach which was closely following him. Durlach was forced to retire on Weiche.

Frederick, judging that nothing now could be made of the affair, ordered retreat to Klein-Bautzen neighbourhood with the new headquarters at Doberschütz and outposts at Kreckwitz and Purschwitz, 6 km or so to northwest. This retreat was done in the usual masterly manner. The Prussian cavalry deployed in the plain between Krechewitz and Belgern to cover the retreat of the army through the defile of Drehsa. Daun and his Austrians stood in their ring of 8 km without attempting any action to hinder Frederick's retreat.

The struggle had lasted for roughly five hours. Then, the fog cleared and the sun shone brightly on the battlefield, dotted by the bodies of 9,000 Prussians and 8,000 Austrians dead and wounded.

Outcome

In the end the Austrian had won a very costly victory but they remained masters of the field and even Frederick admitted that for once the Austrians, had managed to execute a very well conceived plan and had definitely gained the day. He therefore ordered a retreat to the heights of Doberschütz, near Bautzen, 6,5 km from the battlefield. This retreat proved successful thanks to the state of lethargy shown by some Austrian generals, Arenberg in particular, who delayed to pursue the retreating Prussians allowing them to escape almost unscathed.

The spoils of war captured by the Austrians accounted to 30 flags and standards, 102 field guns and most of the Prussian tents and camp-furniture.

The Prussians lost some 8,000 men and the Austrians 5,314 killed and wounded.

Order of Battle

Austrian Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Field Marshal Leopold Daun

Summary:  ???

The Austrian columns are listed from right to left.

Count O'Kelly Brigade occupying the Stromberg

Buccow's Column 37 sqns deployed at the extreme right to the east of Kotitz

Arhenberg's Columns east of Rodewitz

FML Count Colloredo's Column to the southeast of Lauske

Wiese's Column to the southeast of Kuppritz

Main Army under Daun assisted by Lacy deployed directly south of Hochkirch

N.B.: Sincère was in overall command of both columns

Loudon's Column to the southwest of Hochkirch

O'Donnell's Column to the west of Steindörfel (leftmost column)

Prince of Baden-Durlach's Reserve (25,000 men) in front of Reichenbach

Prussian Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Frederick II assisted by Keith, Kanitz commanded the right wing and Margrave Carl von Brandenburg the left

Summary: 30,000 men

Positions around 5:00 a.m.: units are listed as they were deployed on the field rather than according to the “official” order of battle of the day

First Line Second Line
Extreme Right Flank
Freikorps in the bushes at the foot of the Birkenbusch beyond the right wing en potence between Steindörfel and the Birkenbusch, part of the Reserve under Lieutenant-general von Bieberstein and 1 rgt detached from Zieten's cavalry
Right Flank
Infantry Right Wing under Lieutenant-general von Kanitz between Hochkirch and Zieten's cuirassier brigade
Cavalry Centre under Lieutenant-general von Zieten
Left Flank
Infantry Centre under Prince Karl von Brandenburg Cavalry under Lieutenant-general von Seydlitz
Extreme Left Flank
Vanguard under Lieutenant-general von Manteuffel  

Retzow's Corps near Weissenberg

Prince of Hesse-Kassel's Corps (6 bns, 5 sqns) guarding the bakery at Bautzen

unknown composition

References

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

  1. Jomini, Traité des grandes opérations militaires, vol 2, 2nd ed., Paris:1811, pp. 190-228
  2. Carlyle, T., History of Friedrich II of Prussia vol. 18
  3. Vanicek, Fr.: Specialgeschichte der Militärgrenze aus Originalquellen und Quellenwerken geschöpft, Vol. II, Vienna: Kaiserlich-Königlichen Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1875, pp. 448-450

Other sources

Archenholz, J. W., The History of the Seven Years War in Germany, translated by F. A. Catty, Francfort, 1843, pp. 178-184

Daniels, Emil, The Seven Years' War

Diensttabelle Kr. Arch. Wien, Pr. Gen. VIII Anlage 11

Duffy, Christopher, Frederick the great, a military life, Routledge

Duffy, Christopher, The army of Maria Theresa, David & Charles PLC, 1977

Soilleux-Cardwell, Martin, Hochkirch - 14th October 1758, The Wargames Room

Acknowledgements

Alessandro Colaiacomo for the entire initial version of this article

Harald Skala for additional details for the Austrian order of battle