1756 - Prussian invasion of Saxony – Blockade
The campaign lasted from August to October 1756
Frederick II blockades the Saxons in Pirna country
Frederick II had to eliminate the Saxon Army before considering any serious action against the Austrian armies stationed in Bohemia. Time was also an important factor since Austrian units had been recalled from Hungary, Italy and the Netherlands and were on the move to reinforce the armies in Bohemia.
The Pirna Country, also known as the Sachsische Schweitz (Saxon Switzerland), is an extremely rugged country. A few km east (upstream) of Dresden, it begins to rise in soft hills on both sides of the Elbe. It then rises into more impressive hills (up to 600 m high) covered with pine forests and cut by chasms and precipices. The whole country extends some 32 km upstream to Tetschen (present-day Děčín) and 8 km wide on either side of the Elbe. A road from Dresden to Aussig (present-day Ústí nad Labem), Lobositz (present-day Lovosice), Budin (present-day Budyně nad Ohří), and Prague ran along the south bank of the Elbe.
The Königstein, near Schandau, a fortress impregnable to artillery, made this very strong country even stronger. Another fortress, the Sonnenstein, overlooked Pirna. A chain of entrenchments defended the Saxon camp and a bridge of boats had been thrown across the Elbe at Pirna. In the first line of defence, the Saxons had 4 cavalry detachments: on the road to Dresden, in Rottwerndorf, at the windmill to the south of Langen-Hennersdorf and at Pfaffendorf. The Heights of Kohlberg, to the south of Pirna, were occupied by a Saxon detachment (9 officers, 12 NCO and 203 men). In the second line, the passage of the Gottleuba Stream between Neuendorf and the Elbe was guarded by infantry detachments. The third line consisted of a chain of entrenchments protecting the Saxon camp between Pirna and Langen-Hennersdorf.
On September 10, a great part of the Prussian army marched in order towards the Saxon camp at Pirna and the headquarters were placed at Gross-Sedlitz. Frederick's Corps then consisted of 16 bns, 3 grenadier coys, 10 sqns and 14 mortars. Meanwhile, Duke Ferdinand's column encamped at Cotta; Bevern encamped on the heights of Doberzeit. Furthermore, one regiment of cuirassiers and three of dragoons marched through Dresden into the camp of Wilsdruff where a body of 16,000 men was still left.
The same day, the Saxon generals, entrenched in Pirna, held a council of war where they considered whether to hold their ground in Pirna or to open negotiations with Frederick to be considered as neutral in this conflict. However, Brühl received a letter from the Austrian Field-Marshal Browne informing him that Wied was advancing on Aussig and that he would send forward 800 grenadiers and 20 horse to Peterswalde to keep the line of communication with the Saxon Army open. Furthermore, several small detachments guarded the banks of the Elbe. Finally, an infantry detachment (2 officers and 50 men) was posted at the barrier near Leupoldshain and another detachment (60 foot) occupied the town of Königstein. The Saxon Army had enough provisions to hold till September 26, or till September 30 if provisions were rationed. Taking into account local resources, it was estimated that the army could be supplied till October 12.
|Order of Battle
|Detailed order of battle of the Saxon Army in September 1756
Detailed order of battle of the Prussian Army of Saxony on September 11 1756
Upon arriving at Gross-Sedlitz, Frederick reconnoitred the country. The Saxons had a first line of defence along the steep-sided Gottleuba brook. A second line of defence ran along a brook running from Langenhennersdorf to Königstein. Furthermore, batteries, abatis and palisades defended all passes.
Frederick considered the positions too strong to be stormed and decided to blockade the country, hoping to starve the defenders. He deployed his own division from his headquarters at Gross-Sedlitz to Zehista, his second division from Zehista to Cotta and onward as far as Hellendorf on the road to Prague. He also established batteries and detachments north of the Elbe, and a pontoon bridge to Schandau. A very strong Prussian battery blocked the bridge from Pirna to stop any potential withdrawal from this point. A bridge of boats over the Elbe was anchored at Wendisch-Fahre. The blockade required some 30,000 men (38 battalions and 30 squadrons).
On September 11, the II./Brandes Fusiliers who had left Stolpen with the pontoons of the left column finally made a junction with Bevern's Corps in Doberzeit. These pontoons, along with those accompanying Frederick's Corps, were used to throw a bridge across the Elbe at Pratzschwitz. Meanwhile, Grenadier Battalion Jung-Billerbeck along with 1 sqn of Zieten Hussars took position at Johannisdorf and Cunnersdorf to watch the road leading to Bohemia. The same day, Vienna sent orders to Browne to assist the Saxon Army without exposing Bohemia to an attack. Meanwhile, an Austrian detachment (8 grenadier coys, 200 horse and 50 hussars) under Count Peroni, belonging to Wied's Corps, reached Aussig.
On September 12, a coy of Feldjäger zu Fuß arrived from Dresden to reinforce the Prussian forces posted at Johannisdorf and Cunnersdorf. These jägers took position at Rosenthal with advanced detachments at Hermsdorf, Goes and Berggiesshübel on the road to Bohemia. Furthermore, the III. "Standing" Grenadier Battalion Gemmingen occupied the Castle of Gross-Cotta; while 6 sqns of Zieten Hussars encamped behind the castle, linking with their other squadron, which was occupying outposts in front of the camps. The grenadier coy of the Grenadier Garde occupied the Castle of Zehista facing the Saxon positions on the Kohlberg. Grenadier Battalion Bandemer occupied the entrenchments protecting the bridge at Pratzschwitz. They were covered by the Württemberg Dragoons and Szekely Hussars. Puttkamer Hussars had 5 sqns encamped on the right bank of the Elbe and 5 other sqns on the left wing in the camp of Doberzeit, along the Elbe between Rathen and Schandau. The same day the Austrian detachment under Peroni reached Peterswalde.
On September 13 at daybreak, Duke Ferdinand, now accompanying Keith, left his camp with his corps (11 infantry bns, 3 grenadier bns, 12 hussar sqns, 18 field pieces) and marched towards Bohemia to cover the blockade of Pirna. His vanguard (2 sqns of Zieten Hussars and 4 sqns of Szekely Hussars) clashed with some Austrian Grenzers. Lieutenant-Colonel von Strozzi at the head of 2 sqns of Szekely Hussars took an Austrian outpost at Schneeberg. He then reported that 50 Austrian grenadiers were in the Castle of Tetschen. Ferdinand then encamped at Peterswalde. In the evening, Ferdinand was replaced at Cotta by Margrave Karl who had marched from the camp of Dresden with his corps (15 bns, 2 grenadier coys and 20 12-pdrs). The II. "Standing" Grenadier Battalion Ingersleben, who had formed the margrave's rearguard, occupied the heights to the east of Dohma in front of his camp. The Grenadier Battalion Möllendorff replaced the III. "Standing" Grenadier Battalion Gemmingen at Gross-Cotta while Grenadier Battalion Ramin replaced Grenadier Battalion Jung-Billerbeck at Hellendorf. Six sqns of Zieten Hussars were transferred to the margrave's corps; and Puttkamer Hussars were transferred to Ferdinand's Corps, leaving only 3 sqns along the Elbe. The same day near Dresden, Bevern erected a redoubt (the so-called Bevernschanze) to protect the right flank of his camp at Doberzeit. Still the same day, the Austrian corps under Wied reached Aussig. Meanwhile, Browne remained at Kolin, intending to march to Budin as soon as he could.
|Duke Ferdinand's Corps
(14 bns, 12 sqns, 18 field pieces)
|Margrave Karl's Corps
(16 bns, 2 grenadier coys, 20 field pieces)
Austria prepares a relief force
By Mid-September, the Elector of Saxony's headquarters were at Struppen in the centre of the Saxon lines. His army had been put on short rations since September 3. Indeed, with the Prussians blockading the Elbe River and all roads, no additional provision could reach his camp or either of his two fortresses. The Elector repeatedly asked Austria and France for help.
Field-Marshal Browne was hastily readying his Austrian army at Kolin. Empress Maria Theresa personally contributed some of her own horses to Browne's artillery, an example soon followed by noblemen and peasants who assisted Browne during his movement from Prague to the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) on his way to Pirna. Browne's Army now numbered some 60,000 men.
On September 14, Browne marched from Kolin with his infantry towards Budin (present-day Budyně nad Ohří). The same day, 180 vessels carrying provisions for the Prussian army arrived from Torgau in Dresden, escorted by the Grenadier-Battalion Lengefeld. Meanwhile, Ferdinand remained in his camp of Peterswalde (present-day Petrovice) where he received some pontoons sent by Frederick II.
On September 15, after a few skirmishes with the Austrians, Ferdinand moved to Nollendorf (present-day Nakléřov) where he encamped. Meanwhile, Field-Marshal Count Gessler left Dresden with 41 Prussian cuirassier sqns and encamped between Zuschendorf and Krebs. The same day, Peroni's Austrian detachment retired to Aussig (present-day Ústí nad Labem) to join Wied's Corps, which had been reinforced by cavalry led by Major-General Prince von Löwenstein.
|Count Gessler's Prussian Cavalry Corps (41 sqns)
On September 16, Ferdinand remained at Nollendorf. Meanwhile, Gessler marched towards Bohemia with his cavalry corps, provisions and a bakery. Near Dresden, a patrol of Zieten Hussars drove back a piquet of Saxon foot near Königstein, capturing 4 men. On the Bohemian border, Browne's cavalry set off from Kolin and followed the road taken by his infantry two days earlier.
On September 17, the Prussians requisitioned 24 ladders in Dresden. The same day, the rest of the Prussian artillery park (10 x 24-pdrs, 10 x 12-pdrs, 10 howitzers and 28 pontoons) reached the camp of Gross-Sedlitz. Furthermore 14 mortars already present in the camp were sent to Cotta and the 28 pontoons immediately redirected towards Bohemia under the escort of Quadt Infantry. On the Bohemian border, Ferdinand sent his hussars forward. After a skirmish, they encamped at Strisowitz (present-day Střížovice Chlumec). Meanwhile, 10 Austrian infantry rgts had taken position at Lobositz (present-day Lovosice).
On September 18, Lieutenant-General Count Schwerin quit Dresden with 20 dragoon sqns and reinforced Bevern who planned an attack across the Elbe on the rear of the Saxon camp. In preparation for this attack, 30 12-pdrs had been positioned on the bridge of boat at Pratzschitz. Meanwhile, a new redoubt (the so-called Karlschanze) was erected to the left of the camp of Cotta. On the Bohemian border, Ferdinand sent the Grenadier Battalion Kleist and the III. "Standing" Grenadier Battalion Gemmingen into the town of Aussig. Wied abandoned his positions on the heights to the south of Aussig and retired to Lobositz.
On September 19, Schwerin's dragoons returned to the left bank of the Elbe and encamped at Zehista. Meanwhile, Keith, who had received command of the army assembling on the border of Bohemia, left the camp of Gross-Sedlitz accompanied by the Grenadier Battalion Ramin who had been previously posted at Hellendorf where 50 men of the Zieten Hussars replaced it. The same day, the Elector of Saxony exchanged his last correspondence with Austria. On the Bohemian border, Ferdinand moved his corps to Gatschken (present-day Kočkov), closer to Aussig. Two sqns of Zieten Hussars joined him there. Gessler arrived in Postitz (present-day Božtěšice), to the noth-west of Gatschken with his cavalry corps. In the evening, Keith arrived in Gatschken, accompanied by Grenadier Battalion Ramin, to take command of this Prussian army. Meanwhile, Wied's Austrian Corps continued its retreat, stopping at Budin behind the Eger where it joined Wolferdorf's troops. They then observed the movements of Ferdinand's Corps.
On September 20, Schwerin's dragoons, Münchow Fusiliers and Wietersheim Fusiliers (previously garrisoning Dresden) set off from the region of Dresden and marched towards Bohemia. Meanwhile, Lieutenant-General von Lestwitz with 6 bns and ten 12-pdrs encamped 500 m from the Saxon positions near Mocketal. On the Bohemian border, Quadt Infantry arrived at the camp of Gatschken with 28 pontoons. After a first inspection, Keith considered this camp too remote to effectively control the line of communication between the Saxon and Austrian armies. Meanwhile, Browne's Army finally reached Budin behind the Eger, after 6 marches and a one-day rest. Browne, arriving from Prague, personally joined his army in this new camp. Lieutenant-Colonel MacElliot was posted in the Castle of Schreckenstein to the south of Aussig with 400 Grenzers and volunteers. Smaller Austrian outposts extended along the Elbe up to Leitmeritz, which was occupied by 500 foot and a detachment of hussars. Smaller detachments were also deployed along the Eger to cover the completion of the Austrian camp: 100 men occupied the Castle Libochowitz; 150 men and 30 horse occupied Lann. Baranyay Hussars were sent forward to Aussig, Bilin (present-day Bílina) and Brüx (present-day Most) and often skirmished with Prussian hussars.
On September 21, Lieutenant-General von Lestwitz passed the Elbe with part of Bevern's Corps (8 bns, 5 sqns, 10 x 12 pdrs) and encamped at Zehista. Keith built a pontoon bridge near Aussig On the Bohemian border. Furthermore, Münchow Fusiliers, Bayreuth Dragoons, Oertzen Dragoons and Truchseß Dragoons arrived at the camp of Gatschken.
|Keith's Army of Observation on September 21
(19 bns, 75 sqns, 18 field pieces, 28 pontoons)
In the night of September 21 to 22, an Austrian vessel broke the pontoon bridge at Aussig.
On September 22, the Duke von Bevern passed the Elbe with most of the rest of his corps (8 bns, Grenadier Battalion Grumbkow, 20 x 12-pdrs and 21 pontoons) and joined Lestwitz in the camp of Zehista. Bevern had left 20 x 12-pdrs, 2 x 24-pdrs and 10 howitzers at Gross-Sedlitz and 2 x 50-pdr mortars at Cotta. Meanwhile, Frederick sent back two 50-pdr mortars to Magdeburg. On the Bohemian border, Keith quickly re-established his pontoon bridge at Aussig. He also sent Lieutenant-Colonel Strozzi at the head of 300 hussars (including 30 men from Zieten Hussars) to seize all vehicles on both banks of the Elbe. This party was followed by Major-General von Manstein with Grenadier Battalion Jung-Billerbeck and I./Zastrow. This small Prussian force stormed the town of Tetschen (present-day Děčín) and advanced against the castle. The same day, Browne wrote that he intended to come to the rescue of the Saxons with 4,000 Grenzers, 10,000 regular foot, 2,000 horse and 2,000 hussars.
In the night of September 22 to 23, the Castle of Tetschen surrendered to Strozzi's force. The Austrian garrison (2 officers, 4 NCO, 1 surgeon and 66 men, including 15 invalids) became prisoners of war. Diezelsky with 150 men of I./Zastrow, and 1 NCO and 15 men of Szekely Hussars occupied the castle. The Prussians were now in a position to launch patrols in the hills to the east of the Elbe.
On September 23, Bevern's Corps (8 infantry bns, 1 grenadier bn, 34 field pieces, 20 pontoons) set off from Zehista and marched towards Bohemia. After its departure, the Prussian forces surrounding Pirna were reduced to 37 ¼ bns, 26 sqns, 1 coy of Feldjäger zu Fuß, and 28 heavy pieces. These troops were well entrenched with defensive works at Wehlen, Nieder-Rathen, Prossen, Wendisch-Fähre and Schandau. Lieutenant-Colonel von Balbi of the ingénieurs had established abatis on both sides of the Lilienstein as well as on the road and gorge between Copitz and Schandau. Another series of abatis had been erected on the left bank of the Elbe between Hellendorf and the road leading to Bohemia. Only the main road between Berggiesshübel, Hellendorf and Peterswalde remained open. However, a junction between the Saxon Army and the Austrian vanguard remained a possibility.
|Bevern's Corps (9 bns, 34 field pieces, 20 pontoons)
The Prussian blockading force around Pirna was now deployed as follows:
- Frederick's Corps in the camp of Gross-Sedlitz, deployed from the park of the castle to the banks of the Elbe
- Grenadier Battalion Bülow in the Castle of Zehista
- Normann Dragoons (2 sqns) on the heights to the west of Zuschendorf
- Puttkamer Hussars (5 sqns) near the Bevernschanze
- Grenadier Battalion Kanitz at Waltersdorf
- Grenadier Battalion Finck in Schandau and defending the entrenchments near Prossen and Wendisch-Fähre
|Order of Battle
|Detailed order of battle of Keith's Prussian Army in the camp of Johnsdorf on September 24 1756
On September 24, on the Bohemian border, Keith quit his camp at Gatschken and established a new one at Johnsdorf (present-day Habrovice). Keith's Army of Observation (now including Bevern's Corps) consisted of:
- 19 infantry bns
- 3 grenadier bns
- 41 cuirassier sqns
- 20 dragoon sqns
- 2 hussar sqns
- 52 field pieces
- 24 pontoons
Keith had also sent 10 sqns of Szekely Hussars and 2 sqns of Zieten Hussars forward to Türmitz (present-day Trmice). Furthermore, 2 additional grenadier bns occupied Aussig and 4 infantry bns were encamped on the heights to the north of Aussig. On the same day, the Emperor of Austria wrote to Browne, authorising him to launch an offensive against the Prussians in order to rescue the Saxon Army. Still the same day, Colonel von Feuerstein arrived at Browne's camp with the rest of the artillery and some Grenzer troops.
On September 25, the Prussian garrison of the Castle of Tetschen was reinforced with a 12-pdr gun. On the Bohemian border, Keith received intelligence that Austrian light troops had taken position near Teplitz (present-day Teplice) and Mariaschein (present-day Bohosudov). Furthermore, rumours mentioned that Browne intended to come to the rescue of the Saxon Army by Karlsbad (present-day Karlovy Vary) or Freiberg. The same day, Lacy (2 bns, 6 grenadier coys and 2 horse grenadier coys, 1 unidentified bn of Karlstädter Grenzers) was sent to Leitmeritz (present-day Litoměřice) to cover its magazine and to protect the right bank of the Elbe from Böhmisch-Kamnitz (present-day Česká Kamenice) to the Castle of Schreckenstein (present-day Burg Střekov).
On September 26, Keith sent Major-General von Manstein at the head of Grenadier Battalion Ramin (without any battalion gun) towards Teplitz and 2 sqns of Zieten Hussars to Dux (present-day Duchcov) to secure his right flank and to raise contributions.
By September 27, the Saxon Army had exhausted forage and horses began to weaken. In the evening, Frederick rode from Gross-Sedlitz to Zehista.
By the end of September, Browne was encamped at Budin, only two marches from Keith's position. With the arrival of Drašković at the head of some light troops (1 bn of Karlstädter-Lykaner Grenzer, 1 bn of Karlstädter-Oguliner Grenzer, 1 bn of Banal-Grenzinfanterieregiment nr. 1 and 1 bn of Banal-Grenzinfanterieregiment nr. 2), he decided to advance on Lobositz.
The other phases of the campaign are described in the following articles:
- 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
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 Lobositz, Berlin, 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
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
Harald Skala for information on the Saxon Army during this period