1759-12-03 – Combat of Meissen

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Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Battles >> 1759-12-03 – Combat of Meissen

Austrian victory

Prelude to the Combat

On November 21 1759, the Prussian General Hülsen was at Dippoldiswalde with reinforcements when he heard of Finck's capitulation after the Battle of Maxen. He immediately retired to Freiberg while Frederick II sent 4 bns to Mohorn to keep communications with Hülsen open.

Count Leopold Daun then cantoned the Austrian Main Army near Dresden while the Reichsarmee retired to Franconia where it took its winter-quarters. Meanwhile, Frederick took position in front of the Austrians. His vanguard (9 bns, 24 sqns) was at Kesselsdorf; his first line (23 bns) between Wilsdruff and Limbach; his second line (8 bns) in the neighbourhood of Blankenstein and Meissen; his third line (28 sqns) near Herzogswalde; his reserve (11 bns, 35 sqns) under Hülsen near Freiberg. Frederick also detached Dierecke with 6 bns and 1,000 horse at Cölln (now a quarter of the city of Meissen) on the right bank of the Elbe, in front of Meissen, to secure the road leading from Torgau to Berlin.

Map

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Description of Events

In the end of November, suddenly warmed up, Daun resolved to attacked Dierecke's isolated detachment. To do so, he recalled Beck's Corps (6,086 men, including 2,221 Grenzers from the Banal-Grenzinfanterieregiment nr. 1 under Colonel Zetwitz and Warasdiner-Sankt Georger under Colonel Riese) from Zittau. Furthermore, since Dierecke occupied a very advantageous position on the heights of Zaschendorf and Spaar, Daun reinforced Beck's Corps with Pellegrini's 5 bns and 500 carabiniers.

In the night of December 2 to 3, Beck's Corps set off towards Dierecke's positions.

On December 3 at 2:00 a.m., Beck reached Weinböhla in front of Dierecke's positions but did not attack immediately because of the strong Prussian positions. Dierecke got news about the reinforcement of the Austrians but decided to make a stand. He could not expect reinforcement because he was on the wrong side of the Elbe river. In the moonlight, his troops took positions: 2 battalions established themselves on the first Fürstenberg, in front of Bohnitzsch; his other units formed a line between the hills of Spaar-Gebirge and second Fürstenberg near Zaschendorf. Beck did not risk a frontal assault. Instead, he sent Pellegrini's detachment with two 12-pdr guns to Proschwitz by Gröben to place his artillery in a good position to fire on the Prussian line. Grenzers and Beck Volunteers Battalion were sent to Wroschowitz (unidentified location) and Königl. Weinberg (north-east of Meissen).

Combat

When the Austrian were formed, both sides cannonaded each other without much effect. The weather was cold and soldiers made camp-fires to warm up. Gradually, the Austrian artillery planted at Proschwitz forced the 2 Prussian battalions established on the first Fürstenberg to move back to Rotweinberg and Nieder Fehra.

Prussian positions were now much threatened and it was time to retreat. The Austrians had a 3 to 1 superiority and were preparing for an attack.

In the evening of December 3, King Frederick who had been informed of the situation by Lieutenant Götzen, sent a small reinforcement of 2 battalions (Prinz Ferdinand or Alt Braunschweig regiment) with 6 heavy guns to support Dierecke. This reinforcement took position on the left bank of the Elbe to the north and south of Meissen. Its artillery silenced the Austrian guns planted at Proschwitz and Pellegrini and forced them to move back to Zscheila where they resumed their cannonade.

In the night of December 3 to 4, Meissen bridge being broken, Dierecke ferried part of his troops across the frozen Elbe. His cavalry went first, followed by his heavy artillery with infantry closing the march.

On December 4, the crossing of the Elbe was not yet finished when daylight came. The last Prussian battalions were forced to retrace their steps to Cölln and Rotsweinberge on the right bank of the Elbe.

At daybreak, Beck sent Colonel Zettwitz at the head of 4 grenadier coys, 1 bn of Banal-Grenzinfanterieregiment nr. 1 and Lieutenant-colonel Lumago with 2 bns of Joseph Esterházy Infantry to attack frontally Dierecke's remaining units isolated on the right bank while Colonel Riese with 1 bn of Warasdiner-Sankt Georger Grenzer advanced through Broschwitz against the rear of their positions. For his part, General Nauendorf and his hussars took possession of the Prussian baggage in Nieder Spaar after driving back the Prussian troops protecting it. The first assault of the grenadiers and of the 2 Grenzer bns was repulsed.

Soon, 6 Austrian line bns prepared to launch another attack. However, Colonel Zettwitz and Riese renewed their assault and, without firing a shot, stormed the village of Cölln and the Kapellenberg at the point of the bayonet.

Dierecke had fought fiercely for over 2 hours, allowing enough time to send back all their regimental colours across the river.

Finally Grenzer troops captured Cölln and attacked Dierecke's remaining 3 battalions from all sides. The Prussian general was wounded during the fight and forced to surrender with his 3 battalions. During the fight, the Banal-Grenzinfanterieregiment nr. 2 distinguished itself.

Outcome

During this combat, the Austrians lost only 1 officer and 81 men killed and 3 officers and 112 men wounded (these figures probably take into account only the losses incurred on December 4). Beck and Pellegrini captured Major-general von Dierecke along with 49 officers, and 1,494 men from:

They also captured:

  • 8 artillery pieces
    • 1 x 12-pdr gun
    • 4 x 6-pdr guns
    • 2 x 3-pdr guns
    • 1 howitzer
  • 10 ammunition wagons

After this new defeat, Frederick asked to Ferdinand of Brunswick to send him reinforcements.

Order of Battle

Austrian Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Feldmarschalleutnant Baron Beck

N.B. : the work of the German Grossergeneral Stab gives Beck's Corps a strength of about 8,000 men (vol.11, s. 224). Vanicek specifies that, not counting Pellegrini's reinforcement, Beck's Corps counted 6,086 men, including 2,221 Grenzers. Thus, Pellegrini's Corps (5 bns and 500 carabiniers) probably counted some 2,000 men. The number of cavalry from Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, herausgegeben vom Grossen Generalstabe, cz. III, vol. 11, Anlage 10, p. 19

Prussian Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Major-general von Dierecke

Detachment sent by King Frederick

References

Cartography

Karte anno 1765 Schlacht vom Meissen, 3.12.1759, Hammelburger Versandantiquariat

Bibliography

Duffy Ch., The Army of Maria Theresa, New York 1977

Duffy Ch., Sieben Jahre Krieg 1756 - 1763 : die Armee Maria Theresias, C. Reichl-Ham, Wien 2003

Gieraths, G., Die Kampfhandlungen der Brandenburgische-preussischen Armee, Berlin 1964

Großer Generalstab, Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II (Publisher). Die Kriege Friedrichs des Großen. Dritter Teil: Der Siebenjährige Krieg 1756–1763. Vol. 11

Großer Generalstab, Geschichte des siebenjährigen Krieges in einer Reihe von Vorlesungen, vol. 3, Berlin 1828

Jany K., Geschichte der Königlisch Preussischen Armee bis zum Jahre 1807, t. 2, Berlin 1929.

Jomini, baron de, Traité des grandes opérations militaires, Vol. 3, 2nd ed., Magimel, Paris, 1811

Seven Years' War Miniatures - Austrian Grenz-Infantry of the Seven Years' War, 1756 – 1763, Miniatures.de

Tempelhoff G. F., Geschichte des siebenjahrige Krieges in Deutschland, vol. 3, Berlin 1787

Vanicek, Fr.: Specialgeschichte der Militärgrenze aus Originalquellen und Quellenwerken geschöpft, Vol. II, Vienna: Kaiserlich-Königlichen Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1875, pp. 477-478

Acknowledgments

Tomasz Karpiński from Gniezno/Poznań for the initial version of this article