Zieten, Hans Joachim von

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Hans Joachim von Zieten

Prussian Major-General (1744-56), Lieutenant-General (1756-60), General of Cavalry (1760-63)

born May 24 (other sources mention May 14), 1699, Wustrau near Ruppin, Brandenburg

died January 27, 1786, Berlin, Prussia


Hans Joachim von Zieten
Charcoal drawing by H. Skala, after a pastel by Cunningham
Copyright: Harald Skala

Zieten was the third child of Joachim Matthias von Zieten, a poor landowner and Isabela Katharina von Jürgaß. The financial situation of the family did not allow for a formal school education, and Hans Joachim was educated at home.

In 1715, Zieten began his military career as a volunteer in the infantry regiment von Schwendy. During his ten years of service as an infantryman, he vainly requested a promotion four times. His small stature (1,60 m) did not serve him well to aspire to such a promotion.

In 1724, Zieten retired from the army and returned to the family’s farm. After the death of his father, he had, as eldest son, to take care for the whole family.

On January 21, 1726, Zieten reenlisted as second-lieutenant in the Prussian dragoon regiment von Wuthenau, which had just been increased from five to ten squadrons. He soon quarreled with his squadron-commander whom he provoked in duel. The punishment of Zieten for this encroachment was a detention of one year in a fortress. However, as soon as he was freed, he provoked his superior in duel once again and was discharged.

On October 8, 1730, Zieten managed to be reinstated into the newly formed hussar regiment Beneckendorff. He soon showed talents as a cavalryman and found several affinities with his new comrade of arms.

In 1735, during the War of the Polish Succession, Zieten served as squadron commander in the Prussian auxiliary corps, under the Austrian General Johann Count Baranyay de Bodorfalva for the campaign on the Rhine against France. This gave him the opportunity to learn light cavalry work from the only army who really mastered it during this period.

On January 21, 1736, Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia promoted the now experimented Zieten as major of the "Leibkorps Husaren".

On October 3, 1737, Zieten received the king’s authorisation to marry with Leopoldina Judith von Jürgaß. The marriage took place on November 25.

In 1741, at the start of the First Silesian War, Zieten was promoted lieutenant-colonel. On May 17, he met his old teacher Baranyay in an engagement near Rothschloss (present-day Kondratowice/PL), not far from Mollwitz. Zieten charged 1,400 Austrian cavalrymen at the head of 600 hussars. He broke and routed the Austrians. A few days later, Baranyay sent him a complimentary letter. Furthermore, Winterfeldt, who was in command at Rothschloss, reported favorably upon Zieten's conduct. Frederick II was informed of Zieten's feat of arms and gave him, on May 19, the "Pour le Mérite" medal. He also made sure that he got promoted. Indeed, on July 24 of the same year, Zieten became colonel of a new hussar regiment (Zieten Hussars).

In February 1742, Zieten led a reconnaissance into Moravia where his hussars advanced up to 4 km of Vienna and brought back a considerable booty. During the retreat to Silesia, Zieten and his regiment were part of the rearguard. During the following years, Zieten and his hussars became famous for their surprise attacks.

During the short peace between the First and Second Silesian War, as the other Prussian cavalry units, the hussars were completely overhauled. They now combined an iron discipline with the dash and skirmishing qualities of the best irregulars. From then, the Prussian hussars were considered the best of their arm in Europe.

In the spring of 1744, Zieten fell ill, suffering from gout and cramps. On September 24, at the beginning of the Second Silesian War, Zieten was promoted to major-general. His hussars took part in the occupation of Böhmisch Budweis (present-day České Budějovice/CZ) and Frauenberg (present-day Hluboká/CZ). Soon afterwards, he fought the brilliant action of Moldauthein (present-day Týn nad Vltavou/CZ).

In May 1745, Zieten at the head of 500 hussars led the now legendary Zietenritt, a 22 hours long cavalcade round the enemy's lines with the object of delivering the king's order to Margrave von Schwedt at Jägerndorf (present-day Krnov/CZ) in Moravia. Zieten resorted to a ruse, disguising his regiment as an Austrian unit and following an Austrian dragoon regiment along its way towards Jägerndorf. When his ruse was finally discovered, Zieten managed to escape and to reach Jägerndorf. He had accomplished his mission while loosing only 3 hussars killed, 20 wounded and 2 missing. This allowed von Schwedt to make his junction with the main army just in time to fight the victorious Battle of Hohenfriedberg (present-day Dobromierz/PL) on June 4.

In the last years of the Second Silesian War, Zieten Hussars distinguished themselves at Striegau and Katholisch-Hennersdorf.

During peacetime, the Prussian army did not rest on its laurels and continued to train intensively. Zieten was charged with the reorganization of the Prussian cavalry. Besides their usual role as light cavalry, Frederick II asked von Winterfeldt to train hussars to line cavalry tactic. Thus, they learned to attack in linear close formations. During this period, Zieten visited the spa at Hirschberg (present-day Jelenia Góra/PL) several time to improve his health. On March 19, 1756, his wife Leopoldina Judith died. Her death profoundly affected him.

Painting of Hans Joachim von Zieten by Franco Saudelli - Copyright: Franco Saudelli

On August 12, 1756, in the first months of the Seven Years' War broke out, Zieten was promoted to lieutenant-general. In October, Zieten took command of a corps of 10 battalions and 40 squadrons – most of them hussars. With this corps, Zieten prevented the junction of the Saxon Army encircled at Pirna with the Austrian relief corps of Field Marshall Ulysses Browne.

In 1757, Zieten assumed important commands during the Combat of Reichenberg (April 21) and the Battle of Prague (May 6). On June 18 in the Battle of Kolin, Zieten led the left wing of cavalry. In this disastrous defeat, his wing was the only victorious corps of troops of the Prussian army. During this battle Zieten was hit by a canister ball and dropped from his horse. The adjutant of Krockow Cuirassiers rescued him from being trampled under the hoofs of the horses of his own hussars. On December 5 in the Battle of Leuthen, Zieten's cavalry began the fighting and later concluded the battle by its decisive attack on the open flanks of the Austrians.

On June 30, 1758, in the Combat of Domstadl Zieten unable to defend the Prussian supply convoy of 4,000 wagons, destined for the Siege of Olmütz, against superior Imperial forces. On October 14, at the end of the unsuccessful Battle of Hochkirch, Zieten at the head of the whole Prussian cavalry formed the rearguard during retreat of the defeated army.

On August 15, 1760 in the Battle of Liegnitz, Zieten contained the main Austrian army. Frederick promoted him to general of cavalry on the battlefield. On November 3 at the Battle of Torgau, Zieten misdirected the frontal attack on the Austrian positions. This was almost the only error in his career. However, he redeemed his mistake by his lightning attack on the Siptitz Heights, which eventually decided the day.

In 1763, after the Peace of Hubertusburg, Zieten went into retirement in Berlin and Wustrau. At that time, Zieten was the most popular general of the Prussian army.

On April 4, 1764, Zieten married the 29 years old Hedwig Elisabeth von Platen. The marriage was very prosperous, on October 6, 1765, his wife gave birth to his son Friedrich Christian Ludwig. His godfather was the king himself, who gave to his godchild a patent of cornet in his father’s regiment (Zieten Hussars) including pay from the date of his birth. His second son was born in 1771, but lived only 50 days. A daughter was born in 1773.

His health did not allow him to assume active service during the campaign of 1778.

Zieten died in Berlin on January 26 1786 and was buried on January 30, in the tomb of the Zieten family at Wustrau. After his death, his widow received a sum of 10,000 talers from King Frederick II.

Hans Joachim von Zieten was one of few Prussian generals who survived the long lasting wars. He had a very good relationship with Frederick II and was an intimate member of the king’s narrowest circle.


Bauer, F.: Hans Joachim von Zieten, Preussens Husarenvater und sein Regiment, Potsdam, 1999

Die Panzeraufklärer Zeitung

Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911 - Hans Joachim Von Zieten

Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 6 Leuthen, Berlin, 1904, Anhang 17

Priesdorf, Kurt v.: Soldatisches Führertum, Hamburg 1937-42, file.1. p. 324ff

Schmidt , J., Lt dR (PzAufklBtl 13 Gotha); Zieten-Ritt, Unterrichtsmaterialien für die Ausbildung


Harald Skala for improving the article based on additional sources