Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Battle of Leuthen, 1757

King Frederick II "the Great" of Prussia (Anton Graff, about 1781, oil on canvas)
Battle of Leuthen, map showing the Prussian flank march

Good morning ! We haven’t had a historical post lately, and there’s no time like the present.
Today is the 250th anniversary of King Frederick II “the Great” of Prussia’s great victory over a twice-as-large Austrian army at Leuthen, near the city of Breslau, in Prussian Silesia, (since 1945, in southwestern Poland) in the Seven Years War.
The Austrian commander, Prince Charles of Lorraine, made the mistake of fighting the Prussian Army on one of its own peacetime maneuver grounds, and paid accordingly: his approximately 65,000 man army losing 3,000 dead, 7,000 wounded and over 10,000 prisoners, along with 51 standards and over half his 200 guns. The Prince, trying to avoid a Prussian flank attack, and forgetting that he who defends everything defends nothing, threw away his superiority in numbers by spreading his army out over (for the linear-war era), an impossibly long five-and-a-half mile front. As it happened, the Prussians, using the rolling terrain to conceal their movements, found the vulnerable left flank anyway.
Prince Charles, loser of three previous battles with King Frederick, (Choutsitz in 1742, Hohenfriedburg in 1745, and Prague earlier in 1757), proved too cowed by his great adversary's reputation, and their respective past records. Rather than figuring out how to use his superior numbers and firepower to crush the Prussians, the Prince sat still and allowed the Prussians to maneuver and crush him.
The Prussian army’s march across the Austrian front, and onto the unguarded Austrian left flank, and the subsequent Prussian attack that rolled the Austrians right up -- eerily resembles the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson’s great flank march and attack at Chancellorsville, in the American Civil War, 106 years later.
Leuthen was Frederick's greatest victory, and it followed, by exactly one month, his great victory over Austria's French allies at Rossbach in Saxony (central Germany).
All this was long ago, and Prussia, the Habsburg Empire, and all they contended for are long since dust. The world no longer has time for kings or princes; and Frederick the Great’s deeds, and those of his and his enemies’ troops, are mostly forgotten: their long-ago struggles remembered occasionally by historians and antiquarians. But it was real to those who lived it, 250 years ago.


hank_F_M said...

El Jefe

Thanks for helping to fill holes in my knowledge.

The Austrian deployments remind me of Dan Sickles at Gettysburg leaving good position because there is high ground to the front. Anchoring the left just south Rathen would have created a much stronger defensive position. But with double the strength a little bit of looking for the enemy would at least beep the Prussians off balance.

El Jefe Maximo said...

The trouble with looking for the enemy, from Prince Charles's point of view -- was that he might find them. The Prince had plenty of cavalry for searching. . .but was disinclined to use it that way.

When he saw the Prussians in front of him disappearing in what he thought was a retreat -- really the start of the flank march, he actually said "The good fellows are leaving, let's let them go." The Prince should never have been in command of that army: he had been beaten too frequently, in the veterinarian sense, he was "fixed."

Sickles. . .I had thought of him, but in connection with Chancellorsville, when he caught sight of Stonewall's flank march moving near his right. He thought Lee was retreating, and wanted to attack, but Hooker not only vetoed it, but withdrew Sickles corps further north. Sort of like the Prince seeing the Prussians moving off on their march, but Sickles was a good deal more aggressive.

As to Gettysburg, Meade was so hacked at Sickles at Gettysburg, for moving his corps to the higher ground...seems like he rode out to him, and when Sickles pointed out the higher ground, Meade essentially told him not to be stupid, that you could find higher ground all the way to the mountains (pointing at the Alleghenies).

Sickles did wreck his corps, and if Longstreet had had Pickett with him on 2 July, that might have unhinged the US left. But I've always wondered if Sickles' stupidity didn't work out ok for the Union -- Longstreet lost time wrecking Sickles that kept him off Little Round Top just long enough for Warren to put somebody up there. . .and Longstreet's troops had to be pretty near done in physically by the time they got up that hill...and no reserves.

Sickles is an interesting cat. What a scoundrel ! I have personal reasons for interest in him, his second, Spanish wife, is almost certainly a very distant relative of mine. Not sure, and haven't ever had the time to run it down, but probably the case.