Difference between revisions of "1758-10-14 - Battle of Hochkirch"

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Harald Skala and Tony Flores for photos of the battlefield  
 
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Katrin Mitasch of the ''Kulturhistorichen Verein "Alter Fritz"'' for her assistance to Harald Skala during his visit of the battlefield
  
 
[[Category:Battle]]
 
[[Category:Battle]]

Latest revision as of 16:37, 8 September 2019

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 Lieutenant-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 Heinrich and 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 his 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.

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 slender white tower was visible from km. Its square churchyard was surrounded by a sturdy. On each of the southern and northern sides there was a large open arched door. On its southern side, the strong stockade of the churchyard towered some 2 m. over the Bautzener Street. It was difficult to climb might provide some cover for defenders.

The Church and the Blutgasse, note the cannonball still stuck in the church tower half way up
Courtesy: Tony Flores
The wall surrounding the church seen from the churchyard
Courtesy: Harald Skala
A door with musket ball holes, about 15 m behind the main gate of the church that faces south
Courtesy: Tony Flores
The Church door with, to the right, the Memorial to the Prussian Major Langen
Courtesy: Harald Skala
The Bautzener Strasse (now known as the Blutgasse)
Courtesy: Harald Skala
Photos and legends contributed
by Tony Flores and Harald Skala


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.

The chain of hills to the west of Hochkirch
View from Wuischke looking towards Hochkirch
Photos and legends contributed by Harald Skala


Frederick's right wing, commanded by Field Marshal Keith, was camped in and around the village of Hochkirch and south of it, among orchards and woods. Beyond Hochkirch, it had four flank battalions en potence with proper vedettes and pickets of Freikorps and, above all, with a strong battery ( 20 12-pdrs and 6 lighter pieces) on the Birkenbusch, some 100 m. in front of the south-eastern corner of the town of Hochkirch. From that point, the terrain slowly sloped southeastwards to a swampy meadow beyond which the wooded heights rose up. The left wing of the Austrian camp leaned against these heights. Three grenadiers bns, the Freibataillon Angelelli and the Freibataillon du Verger some jäger companies and hussar squadrons provided cover for the artillery redoubt. The two Freikorps occupied a large birch wood on a ridge running south, through a continuous chain of ponds, halfway to Wuischke. A densely wooded area extended in front of the Prussian right wing. 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. The troops on Frederick's right wing were unaware of the proximity of Loudon’s Corps.

The Birkenbusch where the big battery of the Prussian right wing had been established
View from the Birkenbusch looking south towards the forest hiding the Austrian columns
View from the Birkenbusch looking left with the Wohlaer Berg in the background
Photos and legends contributed by Harald Skala


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 centre, along the main road, linking Rodewitz to Hochkirch and scattered for about 1,5 km there were 12 bns of infantry and four cuirassier rgts under Major-General Prince Franz von Braunschweig and General of Cavalry 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 Kuppritzer Wasser, a small brook coming from the mountains south of Lehn, flowed through a wide ravine, in which lay the villages of Kuppritz and Niethen, and then pursued its course northwards, passing to the east of Rodewitz. The Grenadier Battalion Pieverlingk occupied the village of Kuppritz; and the Grenadier Battalion Manteuffel, the village of Niethen. On the eastern bank of this brook, near Niethen, there were a few knolls on which old entrenchments had been erected more than a hundred years ago. These entrenchments overlooked the surrounding area. A Prussian patrol of 100 men occupied them to serve as support for a patrol of cavalry deployed to the east.

The area of Kuppritz and Niethen formed a strong obstacle in front of the Prussian right wing; but it also separated the Prussian camp in two. The Prussian left wing, facing south, extended from the right bank of Kuppritzer Wasser to the east of Rodewitz, up to Lauske which was occupied by the Jägers.

In the north under Manteuffel, forming the extreme left of the army, there were 9 bns, mostly grenadiers entrenched in a very exposed position, screening the village of Rodewitz where Frederick had chosen to spend the night. Four more bns 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 in front of the Prussian left wing, stood on a wooded height Frederic’s second and best battery of 30 guns ready to play upon the village of Lauske and its roadway.

The terrain then undulated northwards in the direction of the heights west of Klein Zschorna. The extremity of the Prussian left wing formed a “potence”, facing east with in front of it a steep ravine running from Klein Zschorna by Lauske up to Kotitz. The extreme left was completed by five regiments of cuirassiers and dragoons under Lieutenant-General Seydlitz between Rodewitz and the village of Drehsa, a little more 1,6 km in the back.

A brook ran through the area of Drehsa, behind the Prussian camp. There was a stone bridge over this brook at the village of Drehsa. The road from Wawitz to Kumschütz formed another possible passage.

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, Strohmberg to end with, were punctually secured. The 20,000 men of the right wing, under d'Arenberg, held the Strohmberg (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.

Austrian Plan

An Austrian council of war held in the evening of October 13, finally produced a daring plan conceived by Major-General Lacy for an attack to be delivered by multiple columns during the night of October 13 to 14. The Austrian army which was preparing to attack the Prussians, counted some 78,000 men (including the 18,000 men strong corps of the Margrave of Baden-Durlach).

The Austrian plan was to divide the main army under Daun and Lacy into two columns that should converge on Hochkirch, the southern corner of the Prussian lines, using the Kuppritzer-Berg to cover their movements until, thanks to a rather thick fog, it would be 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.

During the main attack on Hochkirch, other columns of different strength under Wiese, FML Count Colloredo, Arenberg and Buccow, should lead secondary attacks against the front and left wing of the Prussians, as well as Retzow’s Corps. They should then envelope the Prussian positions, aiming at pinning down the centre and overturning the left flank at Rodewitz.

On the evening of October 13, as soon as darkness would have fallen, 35 bns and 6 cavalry rgts should leave the Austrian camp, marching in four columns. The rightmost column, protecting the flank, was formed of 600 commandeered infantry and 2 cavalry rgts. The mass of the infantry formed two central columns, each subdivided into a vanguard, a first line and a second line. The leftmost column consisted of 4 bns followed by 4 cavalry rgts. Half an hour before daybreak, all troops should have reached their assigned positions at the edge of the woods south of Hochkirch and be ready to advance. The general attack should start at 5:00 a.m. The regiments forming the vanguard of each column should leave their field pieces and colours behind. After a first volley, they should attack at the point of the bayonet or sabre in hand. Heavy artillery pieces were attached to the first line so that they could rapidly be brought forward after the capture of the height of Hochkirch. A disorderly pursuit beyond Hochkirch was prohibited. While the Prussian positions in Hochkirch would be stormed, the cavalry of the Austrian left wing under General Count O’Donell together with Loudon’s Corps, which had been reinforced with 3 bns and 4 cavalry rgts, would advance over the hill behind the enemy camp, and attack the rear of the Prussian positions.

Meanwhile, the right wing (22 bns, 7 cavalry rgts) of the Austrian army under FZM Duke von Arenberg should advance in two columns against the left wing of the Prussians and prevent it to intervene in the ongoing combats at Hochkirch. However, as soon as Hochkirch would be taken, Arenberg should vigorously attack.

FML Count Colloredo was charged, with a weak centre consisting of 6 bns and a cavalry rgt to maintain communication between the left and right wing of the Austrian army and to advance to the rough terrain in front of the Prussian camp. After the capture of Hochkirch, Colloredo should cross this difficult terrain.

Finally, a strong force under FML Prince von Löwenstein should be detached from the corps of the Margrave of Baden-Durlach which was posted at Reichenbach. This detachment was charged to pin down Retzow’s troops at Weissenberg. Furthermore, the margrave should leave his camp near Reichenbach at 1:00 a.m. with the rest of his corps, pass the Löbauer Wasser and occupy the Strohmberg to prevent Retzow from attacking Arenberg’s right wing in flank. Prior to his arrival, FML O’Kelly should occupy the Strohmberg and the passage near Glossen with 4 bns.

The Strohmberg seen from Särka (from the west)
The Strohmberg seen from the south
Photos and legends contributed by Harald Skala


At daybreak, the baggage should be sent by Löbau to Herrnhut.

Description of Events

The battle developed on a wide front and simultaneous attacks were launched against Hochkirch (the main thrust on the Austrian left wing), on the Austrian right wing and against Retzow’s isolated corps. In this section we will first describe events during the night, then each of the three simultaneous attacks will be reported separately. A last section will be dedicated to the retreat of the Prussian army.

Events during the night of October 13 to 14

At 6:00 p.m. on Friday October 13, FM Daun went to the outworks near Jauernick to join the troops of the Austrian left wing early for the attack against Hochkirch.

A very dark, starless night favored Daun’s enterprise. In the Austrian camp, tents were not stricken, campfires continued to burn, tattoo was beaten and night watch carried on.

After nightfall, Daun with the pick of his force (30,000 horse and foot) and all their artillery and tools silently left his position in front of Hochkirch. Troops advanced in the greatest silence on the previously reconnoitred forest paths. To drown the noise of the marching columns and of the advancing artillery pieces (whose wheels were wrapped with straw) , trees were fallen throughout the night near Wuischke as if working at entrenchments. Daun’s force 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 it had fairly got to the flank of Hochkirch.

At 1:00 a.m. on October 14, the Margrave of Baden-Durlach set off from his camp near Reichenbach and marched towards the Strohmberg, sending the Prince of Löwenstein with 7 bns, 3 cavalry rgts and some light troops forward by Döbschütz towards Krischa.

Daun’s forces reached their assigned positions at the prescribed time, covered by the woods and darkness, within musket range of the Prussian outposts. The rightmost column had taken position near Plotzen. The infantry of the two central columns had assembled, under the command of FZM Baron Sincère, between Sornssig and Wuischke. The 16 coys of carabiniers and horse grenadiers stood nearby. The Walloon Brigade of Major-General Count Browne, forming the head of the leftmost column was posted near Wuischke, just opposite the Birkenbusch. Directly to its left, Loudon’s Corps was posted near Meschwitz, its Grenzer light troops also screening the front of Daun’s attack columns. The four cavalry rgts of the leftmost column under O’Donell marched from Gross-Dehsa and Klein-Dehsa south of the Waldberg through the Cunewald Valley and marched by Döhlen to Soritz.

With troops advancing on Meschwitz, Steindörfel and even north on Waditz, Daun enclosed the Prussian Army as in the bag of a net. Then Daun Corps waited until 5:00 a.m.

View from Steindörfel in the direction of Hochkirch
View from the Meschwitz in the direction of Hochkirch (left the steeple of the church of Hochkirch, right the Wohlaer Berg
The hill from where the four Austrian columns marched against Hochkirch
Photos and legends contributed by Harald Skala


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

The small Prussian army encamped at Hochkirch counted 35½ bns and 73 sqns for a total of approx. 29,500 men. Although, this army was small in number, it constituted the elite of the Prussian Army. The infantry included 3 Garde bns and 10 grenadier bns from old rgts from Brandenburg, Pomerania and Magdeburg. Retzow’s Corps near Weissenberg consisted of 14 bns and 35 sqns for a total of 10,000 men.

The vedettes of the cavalry, which during daytime were posted at Wuischke and Plotzen to observe the neighbouring heights as well as the terrain in the direction of Kuppritz and Niethen, had been withdrawn at dusk. Security was now almost entirely entrusted to the sentinels of the Prussian infantry, posted some 300 paces forward of the muskets of their respective bns in the entrenched positions of their battalion guns. The Freikorps were encamped in huts near the Birkenbusch. Near Meschwitz, the Zieten Hussars secured the bivouac between the Birkenbusch and the so-called “Schlosserschenke” (Tavern of the Castle) on the highway leading to Bautzen, where their saddled horses were kept ready. The Czettritz Dragoons were encamped nearby to the west of Hochkirch with their horses saddled and ready to intervene.

A dense fog lay on the ground on the meadow south of Hochkirch and in the valleys in front of the Prussian camp. To the east, he faint glow of the campfires of the Austrian camp could be seen against the sky. Around midnight, the wind carried off the muted sound of the Scharwache which was beaten in the Austrian camp every night at this time. Deserters who reached Prussian outposts during the night reported important movements of Austrian troops but little importance was given to this information.

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. Besides the vedettes and sentinels, the rest of the Prussian army was still asleep while Daun stood waiting for the stroke of five.

Attack of the Austrian left wing against Hochkirch

At 5:00 a.m. on October 14, the toll of the church of Hochkirch rang and Daun burst in with his 30,000 men. The men of the Freikorps encamped near the Birkenbusch then heard a couple of cannonshots soon followed by a lively musketry fire. The sentinels of the grenadiers posted south of Hochkirch peered intently into the fog, here and there officers and men came out of their tents. 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, shooting continued and came closer. Some canister shots burst against the entrenchments along the road to Wuischke. Finally the Austrians came rushing amid swarms of fleeing men of the Prussian Freikorps. They soon overthrew the sentinels of the grenadiers and captured their guns which had barely time to fire a few shots. Thus, in a short span of time, the Austrians had been able to surprise the Prussian bns covering the flanks of the camp.

The 3 Prussian grenadier battalions (Grenadier Battalion Beneckendorff, Grenadier Battalion Diringshofen and Grenadier Battalion Plotho) positioned en potence to the right of Hochkirch sprang out of their tents and seized their muskets. These battle-hardened troops soon fell in ranks and marched to the enemy. They clashed with Daun's Corps and the Grenadier Battalion Beneckendorff and the Grenadier Battalion Diringshofen initially managed to drive the attackers back at the point of the bayonet and to recapture their guns.

Zieten managed to gather his cavalry and to fight back the assaulting Austrians. Nevertheless, Zieten Hussars and Czettritz Dragoons, who had kept their mounts saddled, had been surprised. For a time, Zieten was able to put the Austrians into flight and rescued the Prussian prisoners before being forced to retire.

Sincère’s assault columns then emerged from darkness, headed by the Hungarian Erzherzog Carl Infantry and Joseph Esterházy Infantry. Faced by superior forces, the Prussians grenadiers did not run, but retired towards the edge of the village. The cavalry of Loudon’s Corps charged the retreating Grenadier Battalion Benckendorff, inflicting it heavy losses. The Grenadier Battalion Plotho fiercely defended itself for a while until it was attacked in the rear by Grenzer light troops which had invaded its deserted tent camp. Grenadier Battalion Plotho then had to break through these light troops with musket butts and bayonets. The rest of the Prussian bns deployed on this flank precipitously retired into the village of Hochkirch. The pitch-dark night was so enlightened by brilliant flashes of light that it was possible to distinguish friends from enemy by their uniforms.

A fierce contest ensued for the possession of the large Prussian battery (20 x 12-pdrs and 6 x field pieces) established at the southeastern corner of the village. In the cold and damp night, many gunners had sought refuge in neighbouring houses and part of them could not rejoin their pieces. The camp of the I./Margraf Carl Infantry was located just behind this battery. This bn tried to defend the battery but, when the grenadier bns retreated, it found itself in a very perilous situation. The II./Margraf Carl Infantry assembled in the churchyard which had been courageously hold by a small detachment of the regiment. Meanwhile, the I./Geist Infantry occupied the eastern edge of the village.

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, which was encamped north of Hochkirch, was the first regiment to come to the rescue of the three struggling grenadier battalions. Parts of the grenadiers rallied, and once again managed to drive the enemy back to the Birkenbusch. The Austrian assault columns had been unable to follow the rapid advance of their avant-garde and were still deploying in the woods. They continuously poured new bns into the fray. Turned on both flanks, the Prussian grenadiers were finally forced to retire to avoid being surrounded.

Loudon’s cavalry then attacked the wavering Prussian defenders.

It was now dawn and an Austrian heavy battery established on a height to the southwest of Hochkirch and to the south of the Birkenbusch, set fire to the town with grenades launched by its howitzers while its shots also reached the main Prussian camp. The smoke of the burning roofs and tents soon mixed with the fog and the gunsmoke.

Meanwhile, the alarm had been beaten in the main Prussian camp. Even before any message had reached the headquarters at Rodewitz, the din of battle could be heard. While the horses were being saddled, Frederick walked to the camp of the nearest bns. Still believing that it was only a localized attack launched by the Grenzer light troops, he tried to reassure the soldiers. However, when cannonballs started to fall into the camp and when an adjutant arrived from the right wing to ask for support for the troops defending Hochkirch, Frederick finally realized that he was facing a major attack and not a mere skirmish between Grenzers and Prussian pickets as he initially thought.

Frederick immediately gave orders to Major-General Prince Franz von Braunschweig and to rush to the support of Hochkirch with his brigade (Itzenplitz, Prinz von Preußen, Wedell). He himself sprang on horseback and rode ahead to get a better grasp of the general situation. He also sent orders to Lieutenant-General von Retzow to join the army as quickly as possible with his own corps. All baggage should take cover behind the defile of Drehsa.

While Frederick was taking these dispositions, the situation on his right wing had worsened. The Zieten Hussars, whose horses were already saddled, and the Czettritz Dragoons and Normann Dragoons, encamped near Hochkirch, along with the Schönaich Cuirassiers led by Major-General von Krockow, arriving from Pommritz, had tried, despite the fog, with repeated attacks to stop the advance of the Austrian columns pouring out of the woods. They had inflicted heavy losses to the Austrian grenadiers but their attacks had not been sufficient to stop the Austrians who had been able to deploy and to envelop Hochkirch on two sides.

Loudon’s infantry occupied the height of Steindörfel and his Grenzer light troops took position in the wooded area to the northeast of Steindörfel.

The large Prussian battery was captured after a bitter combat; and the Löwenstein Dragoons then attacked the retiring Forcade Infantry in the rear. Grenadier Battalion Beneckendorff suffered heavy losses, being charged by Loudon's squadron while retreating. Major-General von Geist was mortally wounded as he led his regiment in an attempt to recapture the battery. The Prussians finally reached the southern edge of Hochkirch where they rallied and opposed strong resistance.

Around 6:00 a.m., Prince Franz von Braunschweig was approaching Hochkirch. The blaze of the burning village illuminated the battlefield far and wide.

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

About 6:30 a.m., Keith, who commanded on 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 forward along the eastern edge of the village in the direction of the big battery. Keith recaptured this big battery and pushed the Austrians back into the night, pursuing them up to the heights. Kannacher Infantry then held this important position for a while. However, 3 Austrian grenadier bns 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 which they turned against the defenders of the battery. Keith requested support but could get no response or reinforcement. At length, quite surrounded and overwhelmed, Kannacher Infantry finally had to abandon the position and to make its way in the direction of the village at the point of the bayonet. During the retreat, Field Marshal Keith was shot through the heart and fell dead.

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

The Austrians then turned the guns of the captured battery against the village and cannonaded it.

The II./Margraf Carl Infantry under Major von Langen, posted in the churchyard, heroically defended itself. Not less than 7 Austrian rgts successively assaulted the churchyard. I./Geist Infantry took position in the gardens and II./Geist Infantry moved to the left of the village. The remnants of the 3 grenadier bns of the the right flank along with Forcade Infantry, Kannacher Infantry and I./Margraf Carl Infantry took post partly in buildings of the village, partly at its northern edge. After rallying, Freibataillon Angelelli engaged the Grenzer light troops which had penetrated into the encampment of Forcade Infantry and were plundering it.

While Itzenplitz Infantry penetrated into the narrow streets of Hochkirch; the Prinz von Preußen Infantry, arriving from north at the churchyard through the Bautzener Strasse (now known as the Blutgasse), turned to advance against the great battery. Furthermore, Margrave Karl led the I./Kannacher Infantry once more into the fray. The rest of the Prussian troops defending Hochkirch, assembled in the northern part of the village, joined the general advance. Prince Moritz von Anhalt-Dessau led the attack. The Prussians managed to drive the Austrian grenadiers out of Hochkirch, allowing the brave defenders of the churchyard to rest a little.

However, on the other side of the village, the big battery, now in the hands of the Austrians, received the Prussians with a murderous canister fire. Furthermore, the deployed Austrian infantry lines prevented any progress of the Prussian attack. Prince Moritz got badly hit and, while being driven to Bautzen for surgery, was made prisoner by Grenzers. The Prussian bns finally sought cover in the houses and gardens of Hochkirch. Daun's Corps then captured the big battery and did extensive ruin on the whole right wing of Frederick.

During this time, Frederick had shown up west of Hochkirch at the head of Wedell Infantry. He was soon joined by the II./Garde, the Retzow Grenadier Garde, and Bornstedt Infantry which took position on his left, closer to Hochkirch. Meanwhile, the II./Garde under Major von Möllendorf occupied the Schafberg and opened fire with its regimental guns against Loudon’s troops posted near Steindörfel. The entire cavalry of the right wing under Zieten, which was now deployed between Hochkirch and Pommritz, was to accompany the attack of the rest of the right wing.

The fog gradually lifted, allowing occasional glances on the Austrian positions.

The Austrians, who has directed all their attention to the struggle in the village, only noticed the impending threat when the Prussians crossed the flat height west of Hochkirch and advanced against the left flank of the infantry deployed in front of the village. The Austrian generals managed with difficulty to rearrange their lines to face the attack of the Prussians. The Prussian bns halted and opened fire. Losses increased rapidly. Prinz Franz von Braunschweig, the 26 years old brother of the queen, had his head shorn off by a cannonball while leading the II./Wedell Infantry. Frederick remained behind the regiment. Major von Chmielinsky, commanding the Retzow Grenadier Garde, asked Frederick to move out of musket range but the latter refuse and, when he had his horse wounded under him, asked for a new one.

During this time, General Count O’Donell had formed his cavalry rgts to the northeast of Meschwitz and then advanced against the Prussian infantry. However, the sound of trumpets could be heard from the direction of the road leading to Bautzen. It was the Prussian Garde du Corps, along with the Leib-Carabiniers and Bredow Cuirassiers who were coming to the rescue of their threatened infantry. During the ensuing cavalry combat, the Prussians drove back the Austrians and pursued them towards Meschwitz. They captured 3 standards and then returned to their position on the road to Bautzen.

During this cavalry combat, the Prussian Gens d'Armes and Schönaich Cuirassiers had advanced in columns of squadrons (each sqn deployed in line one behind the other) through the intervals between the Prussian bns and launched an attack against the Austrian infantry deployed south of Hochkirch. The Zieten Hussars and Normann Dragoons had also launched a new attack. The Austrian infantry broke and fled, taking refuge in the nearby forest. Major-General Vitelleschi fell into the hands of the exhausted Prussian cavalrymen who then returned with hundreds of prisoners. Major-General von Krockow had been mortally wounded while Lieutenant-Colonel von Seel, commanding the Zieten Hussars, had been severely wounded and brought back to Hochkirch.


By that time, most of the bns of the Prussian right wing had run out of ammunition and wagons were approaching with new supply. Death had carved huge gaps into the line of infantry.

Loudon’s Grenzer light troops were pushing from Steindörfel ever closer. While FML Count Lacy led the elite companies (carabiniers and horse grenadiers) of the Austrian cavalry against Wedell Infantry. The debris of the regiment, hit by the cavalry charge, were completely shattered, 150 men, gathered around three flags, managed to retire towards Pommritz. The Austrian cavalry then charged Prinz von Preußen Infantry and Itzenplitz Infantry who were forced to fall back with sore loss.

Meanwhile, the Prussian bns, most of them deprived of officers, which had previously taken position in the gardens and courtyards of Hochkirch, began to give way. The troops under Major von Langen occupying the churchyard, who had fought for two hours with incomparable bravery, turned down an offer to capitulate even though a large proportion had been killed or wounded and their cartridges were spent.

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

As a new Austrian column was advancing along the road from Plotzen towards the churchyard, Major von Langen assembled the remnants of his troops at the northern gate of the churchyard and then made his way at the point of the bayonet. Few succeeded in getting through, Major von Langen fell, having suffered eleven wounds (he would die prisoner on October 21 in Bautzen). By then, only 11 bns and 25 sqns of Frederick's Army had been engaged.

By 7:30 a.m., the Austrians had finally made themselves masters of Hochkirch. They then established their heavy artillery on the hotly contested height.

By 8:00 a.m., Frederick found, as the mist gradually sank, a ring of Austrians massed ahead on the heights behind Hochkirch, on to westward and northward, as far as Steindörfel and Waditz. 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 Pieverlingk occupied the height of Kuppritz and Grenadier Battalion Manteuffel the height of Niethen.

The long and stubborn resistance of the Prussian bns posted in the village of Hochkirch had allowed Frederick to form a new line on the ridge northeast of Pommritz. Major-General von Saldern had recently joined the left wing of this force with the Alt-Braunschweig Infantry. A battery of 10 heavy cannon supported these new positions. Prussian units (including II. and III. Garde and Bornstedt Infantry which had suffered heavy losses) retiring from Hochkirch also joined this line.

On the right wing, the III./Garde retired slowly northwards from the Schafberg. To its left, the Grenadier Battalion Pieverlingk had yielded in front of Colloredo’s troops and was retiring from Kuppritz northwestwards to a height where it was joined by other retiring Prussian units (Geist, Kannacher, Itzenplitz, Prinz von Preußen and the remnants of the 3 grenadier bns). The Grenadier Battalion Manteuffel secured the position between Kuppritz and Niethen next to Grenadier Battalion Pieverlingk. 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 Möllendorf and Zieten had seized these key positions. 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.

Around 9:00 a.m., there was a pause in combats. Daun reorganised his line of battle, deploying his corps between Hochkirch and Steindörfel. They had not advanced beyond Hochkirch but their left wing held the heights east and north of Steindörfel. Furthermore, their artillery fired from Hochkirch on the new Prussian positions behind Pommritz. His cavalry took position between Steindörfel 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.

Frederick, standing near the Alt-Braunschweig Infantry, observed the Austrians position with his fieldglass. He decided to retire towards Bautzen, using 5 fresh bns under Major-General Saldern to form a rearguard.

Attack of the Austrian right wing

Around 5:00 a.m., while the Austrian left wing was launching its assault on Hochkirch, to eastward, the appointed Austrian parties were proceeding to attack. On the Austrian extreme right, FZM von Arenberg was charged to burst in upon the Prussian left wing. He advanced with the 13 bns of the right column of the Austrian right wing to turn the Prussian left wing at Kotitz. He was accompanied by all his cavalry (5 cavalry rgts, 2 hussar rgts) led by General Baron Buccow. Furthermore, his left column (9 bns) under FML Duke d’Ursel posted between Lauske and Zschorna was kept in readiness for an attack. Arenberg had been instructed to launch an attack with the right wing as soon as the left wing had opened fire in front of Hochkirch.

Around 6:00 a.m., when the Duke d’Ursel heard the din of battle from the direction of Hochkirch, he sent 400 volunteers against Lauske to dislodge the Prussian jägers but the attack failed.

Several units of the Prussian left wing were gradually diverted to other positions. Saldern sent Alt-Braunschweig Infantry to the heights of Pommritz to reinforce Frederick's main line. He also moved Grenadier Battalion Rathenow from Niethen to occupy the heights east of Rodewitz. Only 6 weak grenadier bns remained to defend the front east of Niethen. On the extreme left wing of the Prussians, Grenadier Battalion Kleist along with 2 coys of the Grenadier Battalion Unruh were sent forwards to Kotitz when the Puttkamer Hussars reported Arenberg’s columns in this area.

The Grenadier Battalion Kleist then joined the Prussian jägers who had retired from Lauske in front of superior forces. Now there were only 4½ bns left to defend the large Prussian battery (30 heavy pieces) located in front of the defile to the north of Rodewitz in front of the Prussian camp. Grenadier Battalion Heyden covered the defile of Rodewitz and Grenadier Battalion Wangenheim occupied the big battery. Other units of Frederick left wing remained at their former positions.

Around 7:00 a.m., FZM von Arenberg ordered the Duke d’Ursel to advance. The latter moved his infantry forward across the bushy terrain west of Zschorna, deploying the two bns of Sachsen-Gotha Infantry in line, one behind the other at the head of his force. The rest of his infantry followed, deployed in two lines with 1 bn posted on each flank. The attack was directed against the large battery.

D’Ursel’s first attack first attack was driven back, the effective fire of the Prussian artillery forcing the Sachsen-Gotha Infantry to retire.

D’Ursel launched a second attack farther north (to the south of Lauske) and hit the flank of the battery. The Carl Lothringen Infantry, under Colonel Count Ferrari, drove back the weak battalion (400 men) formed since the Battle of Zorndorf with the remnants of Grenadier Battalion Alt Billerbeck and Grenadier Battalion Rohr, forcing them 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.

Around 8:00 a.m., Arenberg arrived with additional troops. The head of his column tried to move across the defile of Kotitz. It was initially held in check by the lively fire of the Grenadier Battalion Kleist and Grenadier Battalion Unruh.

At this moment, the Duke of Arenberg received a reinforcement of 7 bns from the Margrave of Baden-Durlach’s Reserve, posted on the Strohmberg.

Arenberg sent 6 bns in two columns side by side through the village of Kotitz while 2 cuirassier rgts took position on both wings. Furthermore, part of the infantry of the Duke d’Ursel, which had reached Lauske, shot at the rear of the positions of the Grenadier Battalion Kleist and Grenadier Battalion Unruh. The Prussian grenadiers waited too late before retiring and were encircled by the cuirassiers and forced to surrender. The Prussian jägers (now less than 80 men) managed to retire in good order. The Puttkamer Hussars were joined by the Krockow Dragoons who had rushed to their support, thus making the retreat of the hussars possible.

D'Arenberg and d'Ursel then concentrated their efforts against Grenadier Battalion Wangenheim and Grenadier Battalion Heyden defending the large 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.

The Duke of Arenberg had barely taken possession of the height and captured the battery when the head of Retzow’s Corps could be seen approaching the battlefield.

Attack of the Austrians against Retzow’s Corps

Still further east, at daybreak, Baden-Durlach’s 20,000 Austrians of the Reserve were about to attack Retzow’s Corps (12,000 men).

The Prince of Löwenstein appeared in front of Krischa on the left flank of Retzow’s positions with 4 bns and 3 cavalry rgts. Krischa was defended by the Grenadier Battalion Bähr and the Pannewitz Infantry under Major-General Prince Karl von Braunschweig-Bevern.

Löwenstein’s foremost cuirassier regiment had partially crossed the marshy meadow southeast of Krischa when the battalion guns of the Prussian troops posted in Krischa opened a lively fire on it. The cuirassiers fell into disorder and retired, dragging the other sqns in their rout.

Prince Eugen of Württemberg then moved across the village at the head of the Bayreuth Dragoons and Werner Hussars and charged. A number of Austrian cavalrymen, who had gotten stuck in the swampy meadows, were captured.

During this time, the rest of Retzow’s Corps took up arms. In the distance, the glint of fire and the flash of artillery and musket fire could be seen in the direction of Hochkirch, but the thick fog stifled the din of battle. The Prince of Württemberg had not yet returned from pursuit, when one of Frederick’s page arrived in Retzow’s camp with an order from the king urging him to march at the rescue of the army which was under attack.

As soon as the Prince of Württemberg returned to camp, Retzow despatched him with 4 bns (Manteuffel Infantry, Prinz Ferdinand Infantry) and 15 sqns (Württemberg Dragoons, Jung Platen Dragoons, and 5 sqns of Puttkamer Hussars) to the king. The Prince of Württemberg passed the Löbauer Wasser near Nechern.


General Baron Buccow, who was posted west of Kotitz with the cavalry of Arenberg’s Corps, advanced on Nechern with 2 cavalry rgts.

The Prince of Württemberg planted a few battalion guns south of Kotitz. They fired on the approaching Austrian cavalry, delaying its advance while the Prussian cavalry resumed its march to join Frederick’s Army.

From the heights to the southwest of Nechern, one could see a large number of scattered and wounded Prussians flocking towards Drehsa, while ammunition carts, baggage wagons, and all kinds of vehicles clogged the roads leading north and northwest. The Prince of Württemberg immediately realised the danger to the Prussian army if ever the Austrians managed to take position around Drehsa. He then rode at quick trot towards the heights west of Drehsa. From these heights, he saw the O’Donell’s Austrian cavalry advancing from Waditz to cut the line of retreat of the Prussian army.

When O’Donell saw, to his astonishment, Prussian troops appearing from an unexpected direction, he halted and then retired to the area of Steindörfel with his cavalry.

The Prince of Würtemberg followed O’Donell as he retired while his 4 bns occupied the heights to the southwest of Drehsa. From these heights, they opened with their field pieces against an Austrian force which was marching from Steindörfel towards Drehsa, delaying its advance.

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 posted himself at Belgern, menacing d'Arenberg flanks.

Meanwhile, Retzow, who was eager to join Frederick, was marching by Gröditz. His rearguard (Grenadier Battalion Bähr, Grenadier Battalion Nimschöfsky, Pannewitz Infantry, Freibataillon Le Noble, Werner Hussars), under the Prince of Bevern was followed by Löwenstein’s cavalry detachment which remained at a respectful distance.

Retzow could not pass the Löbauer Wasser near Nechern any more because it was already occupied by the Margrave of Baden-Durlach who had advanced from the Strohmberg with part of his corps. Therefore, Retzow directed his march to the north of the Löbauer Wasser towards Cannewitz where he effected the crossing near the mill of Riegel, protected by the I./Rebentisch Infantry with 2 twelve-pdrs.

The rearguard of the Prince of Bevern was joined by 3 bns left behind on the heights west of Gröditz. Together, they made front for some time, holding back the pursuers with a brief cannonade.

All these troops then followed by Cannewitz and Retzow’s Corps took position on the height of Belgern. It had not yet suffered any loss, only part of its baggage having been captured by hussars.

It was now 10:00 a.m. and Retzow had posted his corps to paralyse any initiative from d'Arenberg.

The Margrave of Baden-Durlach encamped with his corps on the height of Weicha and the Prince of Löwenstein retired to the heights west of Gröditz.

Retreat of the Prussian army

As mentioned before, Frederick, judging that nothing now could be made of the affair, had ordered retreat to Klein-Bautzen neighbourhood, 6 km or so to northwest.

The Prussian army retired in good order, unmolested by the enemy. Frederick had already sent the 3 cuirassier rgts of his left wing forward to the plain of Purschwitz. The whole cavalry of the right wing followed. The cavalry took position in two lines with large intervals between its sqns, thus allowing the infantry to march through these intervals.

The Prussian army, soon followed by Retzow’s Corps established a camp beyond the Albrechts-Bach on the heights to the north-west of Klein-Bautzen. Troops occupied the villages in front of the camp: Kreckwitz, Purschwitz and Klein-Bautzen; and the headquarters were established at Doberschütz.

Daun and his Austrians stood in their ring of 8 km without attempting any action to hinder Frederick's retreat. His artillery just fired a few cannonballs on the last Prussian bns under Saldern which were retiring from the area of Drehsa.

In the afternoon, the Austrians returned to their camp, leaving only 1 infantry brigade on the battlefield along with the Grenadier Corps and the Carabiniers Corps.

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 Prussian army had lost 246 officers and 8,851 men, about one third of its initial force; and 101 artillery pieces, including 67 heavy pieces, along with 28 colours and 2 standards. Most of the troops of the right wing had lost their tents and baggage. Filed-Marshal Keith and Prince Franz von Braunschweig had been killed; Major-General von Geist and Major-General von Krockow later died of their wounds. Field-Marshal Prince Moritz von Dessau was wounded and captured. He would later be released but would never take the field again.

The Austrians had lost 325 officers and 7,262 men, including those missing; 1 colour and 3 standards.

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 Strohmberg

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. Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 8 Zorndorf und Hochkirch, Berlin, 1910, pp. 272-274, 276-295
  2. Jomini, Traité des grandes opérations militaires, vol 2, 2nd ed., Paris:1811, pp. 190-228
  3. Carlyle, T., History of Friedrich II of Prussia vol. 18
  4. 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

Harald Skala and Tony Flores for photos of the battlefield

Katrin Mitasch of the Kulturhistorichen Verein "Alter Fritz" for her assistance to Harald Skala during his visit of the battlefield