1759-12-03 – Combat of Meissen
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.
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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).
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.
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:
- Kanitz Infantry (1 battalion strong)
- Hauss Fusiliers (ex-Saxon, one battalion strong)
- Anhalt-Bernburg Infantry (only one battalion had been captured)
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
- Beck's Corps
- Infantry (about 1,015 men)
- Heavy cavalry (about 1,300 men)
- Light cavalry (about 1,550 men) under General Nauendorf
- Grenzers (2,221 men so each regiment probably counted only 1 battalion)
- 2 x 6-pdr guns
- 4 x 12-pdr guns
- 2 x 7-pdr howitzers
- Major-general Pellegrini's corps
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
- Regimental artillery (6-pdr and 3-pnr guns)
- Field artillery
- 2 x heavy 12-pdr guns
- 3 x Austrian 12-pdr guns
- 1 x light 12-pdr gun
- 1 x 7-pdr howitzer
Detachment sent by King Frederick
- Artilery (6 heavy guns)
Karte anno 1765 Schlacht vom Meissen, 3.12.1759, Hammelburger Versandantiquariat
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Tomasz Karpiński from Gniezno/Poznań for the initial version of this article