Battle of Hochkirch
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|Battle of Hochkirch|
|Part of the Seven Years' War|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Frederick the Great||Marshal Leopold Josef Graf Daun|
|30,000-36,000 men||80,000 men|
|Casualties and losses|
|9,400 men, 101 cannons, nearly all their tents||7,300 men|
The Battle of Hochkirch was a battle fought on October 14, 1758 during the Seven Years' War between a Prussian army of 30,000-36,000 commanded by Frederick the Great and an Austrian army of 80,000 commanded by Marshal Leopold Josef Graf Daun. The battle took place around Hochkirch, which is 9 km east of Bautzen, Saxony.
Frederick did not plan on staying in the small village for an extended period of time. He and his army would only stay until their provisions arrived from Bautzen then keep moving eastward. Frederick had omitted any thought of strategy when setting camp. He also ignored the warnings of his officers who thought staying in the village was suicide. Regardless, Frederick scattered his men north to south, in an “S” shape, next to Hochkirch. He faced his troops east towards the last known location of Daun’s army. The weak side (west-side) was guarded by an outpost of nine battalions with battery support. Their purpose was mostly to keep contact with a deployed scout unit. The east side was guarded by eleven battalions and twenty-eight squadrons. Frederick had his best soldiers garrison the village of Hochkirch. To the east of the village was high ground occupied by the Austrians, whose looming presence had increasingly made the Prussians more anxious of an attack. However, Frederick did not believe an attack would occur seeing that Daun’s army had been dormant in recent months.
The Start of Battle
However what Frederick thought was the opposite of what was true. After days of personally scouting the Prussian camp and being urged by his officers, Daun thought it to be a good opportunity for attack. Daun noted the fact that the Prussians neither increased their security nor deployed their troops in response to the Austrian presence; they were non-responsive. He also took into account that his men were eager to fight a battle and they outnumbered the Prussians by over two-to-one.
Using the darkness and fog as cover, the Austrians fell on the Prussians when the church bell rang at 5 a.m. They were grouped in small shock units so that they could be more easily controlled under the cover of night. The east side was the first to be attacked. The Prussians were caught completely off guard. Many men were still sleeping or just waking up when the Austrians attacked.
At first Frederick thought the sounds of the battle were just an outpost skirmish, but was soon alerted when his own Prussian cannons started to fire on his camp. By daybreak the fog had lifted and the soldiers could make out friend from foe. The Prussians mounted a large counterattack, but the Austrians started to close in on their flank and rear, forcing them to fall back. Much of the fighting occurred in the village, volleys being exchanged between buildings. Eventually the orderly Austrian army caused the disarrayed Prussians to fall back to the walls of Hochkirch, and eventually to retreat out of the village. Prussian counterattacks were launched; however, all fell short. Around 10 a.m. the Prussians retreated to the north-west.
Frederick and the remaining Prussian army were out of range of the Austrian army by the time they had gotten themselves organized. In the end Frederick lost more than a quarter of his army, 6 generals, one of whom was his brother-in-law, 101 guns, and nearly all the tents. Daun and his army celebrated their victory. Daun was sent a blessed sword and hat from Pope Clement XIII, a common reward for defeating "infidels". The Austrians then attempted to advance through Saxony and invade Brandenburg, but Frederick quickly mobilized his army and blocked their path, preventing Daun from exploiting his success.
Although Frederick showed off his leadership and courage in rallying his troops again, this is marked as one of his worst losses; his grief was added to when he learned that his beloved elder sister, Wilhelmine, had died the same day as Hochkirch. The wounded Prussians had to make their own way to the field hospital; walking wounded dumped the others onto carts, waiting for them to die so they could have their clothes. The wounded had to beg for food from villagers; even medical orderlies robbed them.
James Francis Edward Keith
Commanding the rearguard of Frederick's forces was his close friend Field Marshal James Keith, a Scot from Peterhead, who managed to hold back the entire Austrian Army, enabling Frederick to retire in order, before being killed. 250 years later a granite monument, inlaid with a bronze plaque, was erected by the inhabitants of Hochkirch in memory of "Generalfeldmarschall Jacob von Keith" and his achievement. The inscription reads "Suffering, Misery, Death."
- Geoffrey Regan, Military Blunders, page 133
- Duffy, Christopher. Frederick the Great: A Military Life. New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, 1985. Print.
- Mitford, Nancy. Frederick the Great. New York: Harper & Row, 1970. Print.
- Reiners, Ludwig. Frederick the Great: A Biography. Trans. Lawrence P.R. Wilson. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1960. Print.
- Showalter, Dennis. The Wars of Frederick the Great. New York: Longman Group Limited, 1996. Print.
- Battle of Hochkirch - Chapter 14 of Thomas Carlyle's History of Friedrich II.