Battle of Rossbach

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Battle of Rossbach
Part of the Seven Years' War
Schlacht bei Roßbach.jpg
The outcome of the 90-minute battle was hardly in doubt.
Date 5 November 1757
Location Roßbach, Electorate of Saxony (present-day Saxony-Anhalt)
51°16′10″N 11°53′40″E / 51.26944°N 11.89444°E / 51.26944; 11.89444Coordinates: 51°16′10″N 11°53′40″E / 51.26944°N 11.89444°E / 51.26944; 11.89444
Result Prussian victory
 Prussia  France
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Prussia Frederick II Kingdom of France Charles de Rohan, Prince of Soubise
Habsburg Monarchy Prince Joseph of Saxe-Hildburghausen
79 guns
45 guns
Casualties and losses
169 dead
379 wounded
Total: 558
5,000 dead or wounded
5,000 captured
Total: 10,000

The Battle of Rossbach (5 November 1757) took place during the Seven Years' War (1756–1763) near the village of Rossbach, in the Electorate of Saxony. It is sometimes called the Battle of, or at, Reichardtswerben, after a different nearby town. In this battle, Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, defeated an allied army composed of French forces augmented by a contingent of the Habsburg Monarchy. The French and Austrian army included almost 42,000 men, opposing a considerably smaller Prussian force of 22,000. Despite overwhelming odds, Frederick employed rapid movement, flanking maneuver and oblique order to achieve complete surprise.

The Battle of Rossbach marked a turning point in the Seven Years' War, not only for its stunning Prussian victory, but because France subsequently refused to send troops against Prussia again and Britain, noting Prussia's military success, increased its financial support for Frederick. Following the battle, Frederick immediately left Rossbach and marched for 13 days to the outskirts of Breslau. There he met the Austrian army at the Battle of Leuthen; he employed similar tactics to defeat an army considerably larger than his own.

Rossbach is considered one of Frederick's greatest strategic masterpieces. He crippled an enemy army twice the size of the Prussian force while suffering negligible casualties. His artillery also played a critical role in the victory, based on its ability to reposition itself rapidly responding to changing circumstances on the battlefield. Finally, his cavalry contributed decisively to the outcome of the battle, justifying his investment of resources into its training during the eight-year interim between the conclusion of the War of Austrian Succession and the outbreak of the Seven Years' War.

Seven Years' War[edit]

Although the Seven Years' War was a global conflict, it took a specific intensity in the European theater based on the recently concluded War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748). The 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle concluded the earlier war with Austria. Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great, acquired the prosperous province of Silesia. Empress Maria Theresa of Austria had signed the treaty to gain time to rebuild her military forces and forge new alliances; she was intent upon regaining ascendancy in the Holy Roman Empire.[1] In 1754, escalating tensions between Britain and France in North America offered the Empress the opportunity to regain her lost territories and to limit Prussia's ever growing power. Similarly, France sought to break the British dominance of Atlantic trade. France and Austria put aside their old rivalry to form a coalition of their own. Faced with this sudden turn of events, Britain aligned herself with the Kingdom of Prussia; this alliance drew in not only the British king's territories held in personal union, including Hanover, but also those of his relatives in the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg and the Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel. This series of political maneuvers became known as the Diplomatic Revolution.[2][3]

Situation in 1757[edit]

At the start of the war, Frederick had one of the finest armies in Europe: his troops—any company—could fire at least four volleys a minute, and some of them could fire five; his army could march for miles at a time, and was able to conduct under fire some of the most complex maneuvers known.[4] After over-running Saxony, Frederick campaigned in Bohemia and defeated the Austrians on 6 May 1757 at the Battle of Prague. Initially successful, after Battle of Kolín, though, everything went awry: what had started as a war of movement by Frederick's agile army turned into a war of attrition. By summer 1757, Prussia was threatened on two fronts.[5] In the east, the Russians under Field Marshal Stepan Fyodorovich Apraksin besieged Memel with 75,000 troops. Memel had one of the strongest fortresses in Prussia but after five days of artillery bombardment, the Russian army stormed it.[6] The Russians then used Memel as a base to invade East Prussia and defeated a smaller Prussian force in the fiercely contested Battle of Gross-Jägersdorf on 30 August 1757. However, the Russians were not yet able to take Königsberg after using up their supplies of cannonballs at Memel and Gross-Jägersdorf and retreated soon afterward. Logistics of supplying a large army remained a recurring problem for the Russians throughout the war.[7] Although previous experiences in wars with the Ottoman Empire had exposed these problems, the Russians had not solved the challenge of supplying the army at a distance from Moscow.[8] Still, even with its recurrent supply problems, the Imperial Russian Army was a new threat to Prussia, forcing Frederick to abandon his invasion of Bohemia and to withdraw further into Prussian territory.[9]

As summer ended, a combined French and Reichsarmee, or Imperial army, commanded by Prince Soubise approaching from the west.[10] The Franco-Imperial allied army marched into Thuringia. Using the strategy of interior lines, Frederick advanced against the Franco-Imperial army, setting out from Dresden on 31 August with 25,000 men and managing a long and arduous march reminiscent of the forced marches of his great grandfather, Frederick William I, the "Great Elector". An army only marches as fast as its slowest components, which are usually the supply trains, and Frederick obtained needed supplies ahead of the army, which enabled him to abandon his supply wagons. His army covered 274 kilometers (170 mi) in only 13 days. Bringing his enemy to battle proved difficult, as the Allies flitted out of his reach. Both Frederick and his enemies moved back and forth for several days, trying to maneuver around each other but ending up in a stalemate. During this time, an Austrian raiding party attacked Berlin and almost captured the Prussian royal family.[7]

Terrain and maneuver[edit]

wide river with trees and bushes covering the shoreline
Old branch of the Saale river at Weissenfels

The story of the battle of Rossbach is as much the story of the five days of maneuver leading up to those famous 90 minutes of battle, and the maneuvers were shaped by the terrain. Initial activity focused on the village of Weißenfels, at the confluence of the middle Saale from the Buntsandsteingteltel of the Thuringian Basin in the Leipzig highlands, not far from the modern-day A 9; the locale lies 36 km (22 mi) from Halle (Saale) and 41 km (25 mi) southwest of Jena southwest of Leipzig, in the so-called Weißenfels-Jenaer Saale valley. The valley there is relatively narrow; the hillsides are steep, and there are limited crossings of the river. The plateau has elevations between 120–244.6 meters (394–802 ft). The scene of the battle, Rossbach, was a village in then-Prussian Saxon Province, 14 kilometers (9 mi) southwest of Merseburg. The village itself stood on a small hillock, but otherwise the locale was a wide plain largely without trees or hedges. The ground was sandy in some areas, and marshy in some others; a small stream ran between Rossbach and Merseburg, south of which rose two low hills, the Janus and the Pölzen. Thomas Carlyle later described these as unimpressive, although certainly horses dragging wagons would notice them, as the animals slipped in loose stones and sand. To the west, the Saale flowed past a small town of Weissenfels, a few miles southeast of Rossbach.[11]

On 24 October, James Keith was in Leipzig when the Imperial Army occupied Weissenfels. Frederick joined him there two days later. Over the next couple of days, though, the King's brother, Prince Henry, arrived with the main body of the army and his brother-in-law, Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel arrived from Magdeburg. Prince Moritz of Anhalt-Dessau arrived by 28 October and, although his men had marched up to 43 km (27 mi) in a day, they were still eager to face the Austrian and French forces. The Allies had established a post close to Markranstädt, and maintained some line of control along the Saale river. This gave Prussia a complement of 22,000 men.[12] On 30 October, the King led the army out of Leipzig, toward Lützen, with Colonel Johann von Mayr and his independent infantry regiment of 1500 mixed troops [13] in the lead to flush out allied pickets and reconnaissance parties; this cleared the way for the main army. The next day, Frederick moved out of Lützen at 3:00, during heavy rain. Despite the weather, the Széchenyi Hussars harassed their line of march but, in the hussars' eagerness to annoy the Prussians, they forgot to send a messenger to Weissenfels to warn the garrison of the Prussian approach. When Mayr appeared at about 8:00 a.m. on the 31st, followed by the King and the rest of his army, the French were completely surprised. The force there consisted of four battalions and 18 companies of grenadiers, all but three of them French: 5,000 men under command of the Louis, Duke de Crillon.[14]

Vintage map of battlefield, showing general movement of armies in relation to villages and river
The Allied armies were spread out on the plain in front of Rossbach

Crillon closed up the town and prepared for action. The Prussians unlimbered the artillery and fired on the town gates; Mayr's men and the Prussian grenadiers knocked out the obstructions. A few precise hits cleared their way into the town and the Allied resistance went up in smoke; the Allied troops rapidly withdrew from the town across the bridge at the Saale, and as they withdrew, the set fire to the bridge to prevent the Prussians from following them. A conflagration consumed the wooden bridge so rapidly that 630 men, most of the garrison, were trapped on the wrong side. They surrendered with their arms and equipment. Hildburghausen, at Burgwerben, ordered a barrage laid down across the Saale to prevent the Prussians from repairing the bridge. Frederick's gunners responded and the two shelled each other until about 3:00 pm.[15]

While the artillery kept up its noisy business, holding the Duke's attention, Frederick sent scouts to find a decent crossing of the Saale, since the one at Weissenfels was not usable. There was little he could do at the burned bridge; to cross the river under Hildburghausen's nose, in the face of fire, would have been foolish. The Allies were behind the river, and had erected a physical barrier to protect them. Inexplicably, though, Hildburghausen gave up this advantage and retired toward Burgweben and Tagewerben, counting on the intervening hills to protect him. Soubise had advanced from Reichardswerben through Kaynau, and they met up at Gross Körbetha. Their advanced guard patrolled Merseburg, and sought some information from the local inhabitants. Neither the Duke nor Soubise had an idea what Frederick intended, or indeed, what he was doing. However much the local Saxon peasants might have disliked the Prussians, they disliked the French and Austrians more. Marshal Keith reached Merseburg and found the bridge there destroyed, with the Austrians and French prepared to hold the other side of the river.[15] By the night of 3 November, Frederick's engineers finished their new bridges and the entire Prussian line advanced across the river.[11] As soon as Frederick had crossed the river, he sent 1500 cavalry under command of Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz to raid the Allied camp. He planned to attack it the next day, but the surprise raid frightened Soubise into moving during the night to a more secure position. On November 4, Frederick moved to his camp at Rossbach.[11]

On the Allied side, the officers, both French and Austrian, were frustrated by their superiors' timidity. Clearly, Frederick's position was precarious, and the Prussians were well outnumbered. One officer, Pierre-Joseph Bourcet convinced Soubise that they should attack Frederick in the morning, by swinging around to Frederick's left flank and cutting his line of retreat. This would, he thought, finish the campaign. After some persuasion Soubise and Hildburghausen were convinced and everyone went to sleep. In the morning, some of the allied troops went out to forage, and Soubise received a notice from Hildburghausen: not a moment to be lost, we should advance, gain the heights and attack from the side. Until that point, Soubise had done nothing.[11]


Initial battlefield dispositions[edit]

On the morning of 5 November 1757 the Prussian camp lay between Rossbach on the left and the village of Bedra on the right, facing the Allies. The French general, the prince of Soubise, and the Austrian Duke of Saxe-Hildburghausen, who was General of the Holy Roman Empire's forces, had maneuvered in the preceding days without giving Frederick an opportunity to begin fighting. Their forces were located to the west, with their right flank near the town of Branderoda and their left at Mücheln. The advanced posts of the Prussians stood in villages immediately west of their camp, those of the Allies on the Schortau hill and the Galgenberg.[16]

The Allies possessed a numerical superiority of two to one, and their advanced post overlooked all parts of Frederick's camp. The French and Habsburg Imperial troops consisted of 62 battalions (31,000 infantry), 84 squadrons (10,000) cavalry, and 109 artillery), totaling 41,000 men, under the command of Charles, Prince of Soubise and Prince Joseph of Saxe-Hildburghausen.[17] The Allies had taken the lead in the maneuvers of the previous days, and the Duke of Hildburghausen decided to take the offensive. He had some difficulty, however, inducing Soubise to risk a battle so the Allies did not begin to move from their campground until after eleven a.m. on 5 November. Soubise probably intended to engage as late in the day as possible, with the idea of gaining what advantages he could in a partial action before nightfall. Their plan called for the Allied army to march by Zeuchfeld, around Frederick's left, which no serious natural obstacle covered, and to deploy in battle array facing north, between Reichardtswerben on the right and Pettstädt on the left. The Duke's proposed battle and the more limited aim of Soubise appeared equally likely to succeed by taking this position, which threatened to cut Frederick off from a retreat to the towns on the Saale. The Allies could only attain this position by marching around the Prussian flank, which could put them in the tenuous position of marching across their enemies' front. Consequently, the Allies posted a sizable guard against the obvious risk of interference on their exposed flank.[16]

Image of battlefield showing direction of maneuver
Maneuver for Position

On the other side, Frederick commanded 27 battalions of infantry (17,000 men) and 43 squadrons of cavalry (5,000 horse), plus 72 companies of artillery, for a total of 22,000 men.[17] He spent the morning watching the French from a Goldacker manor rooftop in Rossbach. The initial stages of Allied movement convinced him that the Allies had started retreating southward towards their magazines; he sent out patrols to learn from the peasants what could be gleaned. They reported back that Soubise had taken the Weissenfels road, which led not only to that village, but also toward Freiburg, where Soubise could find supplies, or to Merseburg, where they would cut the Prussians off from the Saale. At about noon Frederick went to dinner, leaving the young captain Friedrich Wilhelm von Gaudi. Two hours later, his watch captain reported the French approaching. Though Gaudi's excited report at first appeared to confirm a French-Austrian retreat, Frederick observed that Allied columns, which from time to time became visible in the undulations of the ground, appeared to turn eastwards from Zeuchfeld. When Frederick saw for himself that hostile cavalry and infantry were already approaching Pettstädt, he realized the enemy's intentions. The Allies intended to attack him in the flank and rear, and break his communications line, if not crush him completely. They now offered him the battle for which he had maneuvered in vain, and he accepted it without hesitation.[16]

Opening moves[edit]

dilapidated house where Frederick watched the Allied Army
The tower of manor house at Rossbach offered Frederick a vantage point from which to watch the Allied army and to command his troops.

Within the hour, by 3:00 p.m. the Prussians had struck camp, loaded their tents and gear, and troops had fallen into line. The recently promoted Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz took his 38 squadrons of cavalry and moved up to the Rossbach itself, toward the Janus and Pölzen hills. Except for a few moments, the advance was hidden entirely from view. He was followed by Colonel Karl Friedrich von Moller's battery of 18 heavy guns, which positioned themselves on the Janus between the infantry's left and the cavalry's right. Seven squadrons remained in Rossbach to guard St. Germain.[16]

Soubise, aware of some of these movements, thought the Prussians were in full retreat. He ordered his advanced guard to hasten toward the Janus hill, but he issued no instructions on where and when to deploy. The Allied infantry moved in three long columns: at the head were the French regiments of Piedmont and Mailly, and on the flanks and in front of the right column were two regiments of Austrian cuirassiers and the Imperial cavalry. Ten French squadrons remained in reserve and twelve others protected the left flank. Soubise, who undoubtedly knew better, ordered no ground reconnaissance, sent no advanced guard, and sent his army blindly into Frederick's clutches.[16]

The trap[edit]

map showing troop movements leading up to the Prussian trap
The Trap

When the Prussians broke camp, they left a handful of light troops to demonstrate before the French advance post. These light troops constituted the flank guard on the Schartau hill. Frederick had no intention either of forming a line parallel to the enemy or of retreating. His army could move as a unit twice as fast as the Allies' army. If, at the moment of contact, the Allies had already formed their line of battle facing north, then his attack would strike their right flank; if they were still on the move in columns eastwards or northeastwards, the heads of their columns would be crushed before the rest could deploy in the new direction, deployment being a lengthy affair for most armies.[18]

The Allies were marching in normal order in two main columns, the first line on the left, the second line on the right; farther to the right, though, marched a column consisting of the foot reserve, and between the first and second lines was the reserve artillery. The right wing cavalry was at the head and the left wing cavalry at the tail of the two main columns. Noting some Prussian movement, Soubise ordered a wheeling pivot to the east.[19] It is, under the best of conditions, a complicated maneuver, and difficult to accomplish on the parade ground; to accomplish it in the field, with troops unfamiliar with each other, in uneven terrain, would be extraordinary. At first, the troops retained regulation distance, wheeling eastward toward Zeuchfeld, but then part of the reserve infantry moved in between the two main columns, hampering the movements of the reserve artillery. The troops on the outer flank of the wheel found themselves unable to keep up with the overly rapid movement of the inner pivot.[18]

Soubise and the Duke ignored the confusion of their own troops struggling in the wheeling pivot. From their vantage point, it looked to the Allied commanders that the Prussians were moving eastward; Soubise and the Duke presumed that the Prussians were about to retreat in order to avoid being taken in their flank and rear. The Allied generals hurried the march, sending on the leading (right wing) cavalry towards Reichardtswerben. They also called up part of the left wing cavalry from the tail of the column and even the flank guard cavalry to take part in what they presumed would be the general chase. Any semblance of the wheeling pivot was lost in these fresh maneuvers, and the remaining columns lost all cohesion and order.[18]

Moller's artillery on Janus hill again opened fire at 3:15. When they came under the fire of Moller's guns, the Allied cavalry, which now lay north of Reichardtswerben and well ahead of their own infantry, suffered from the barrage, but the commanders were not particularly concerned about the display of cannon fire. It was usual to employ heavy guns to protect a retreat, so the Allies contented themselves with bringing some of their field guns into action. Soubise and his staff thought the Prussians were retreating and using the guns as cover, and simply hurried to get out of range, but this further disorganized the Allied lines, and caused any remaining unit cohesion to break down.[18]

While this happened, Seydlitz assembled his cavalry into two lines, one of 20 squadrons and the second of 18, and reduced the speed of his approach. The Prussians halted in two lines behind the screening ridge, and waited patiently. Seydlitz sat at the head of the lines, calmly smoking his pipe. When the Allied cavalry came striking distance, 1000 paces from the crest of the ridge, he tossed his pipe in the air: this was the signal to charge. At 3:30, when Seydlitz's 20 squadrons descended on the Allied army, they wrought havoc among the morass of disorganized cuirassiers. The leading regiments managed to deployed to meet Seydlitz's squadrons, but the momentum of the Prussian attack penetrated the Allied lines. Prussian cavalry rode flank to flank; their training meant they could form a line three and four deep from a column without breaking pace; once formed into a line, the troopers rode with knees touching, the horses flanks touching, and horses riding tail to nose. Any attack of Prussian cavalry on open ground meant a line of horses—big ones—bearing down on infantry columns, lines, or squares. The horsemen could maneuver at a full gallop, to the left or right, or in an oblique.[18] The Prussians appeared from the Pölzen hill upon the head and right flank of their columns at an incredible speed. The fighting soon dissolved into man-on-man combat; Seydlitz himself fought like a trooper, receiving a severe wound. He ordered his last 18 squadrons into the fray. The mêlée drifted rapidly southward, past the Allied infantry. Part of the Allied reserve, which had become entangled between the main columns, was extricating itself by degrees and endeavoring to catch up with the rest of the reserve column away to the right, but the sweep of horses and Allied infantry pulled them into the fighting. The reserve artillery proved useless; caught in the middle of the infantry columns, it could not deploy to support any of the endangered Allied troops. The Prussian infantry was still in echelon from the left, so there was no escape in that direction. Those Allied units who escaped the artillery and the horsemen ran headlong into Prince Henry's infantry moving from Schartau hill.[18] Attempted French counterattacks dissolved into confusion.[20]

As the general action of horse and men subsided, artillery fire came into focus: Moller's battery on the Janus had been reinforced with three siege guns from Leipzig, and these huge guns battered the Allies.[18] Infantry and then artillery took over the assault, and Seydlitz ordered the recall. This in itself was unusual: under normal conditions, a cavalry expended one attack, and spent the rest of the battle chasing fleeing troops. Instead, Seydlitz rallied his horsemen in a hollow near Tagewerben, readying them for fresh service. This first episode took only half an hour, and by that time Prince Henry's Prussian infantry, in echelon from the left, were descending the Janus hill to meet the already confused and disheartened infantry of the Allies. Most of the Allied cavalry in front were smashed to pieces by the initial charge and many of them trampled over their own men trying to flee. The field was littered with riderless horses and horseless men, wounded, dying and dead.[18] Seydlitz led his rallied force toward the flank and rear of the Allied army, out of the fighting and into a copse of trees, where the horses and men could catch their breath. The Allies, relieved to see the last of the horsemen, became preoccupied with the Prussian infantry, about four battalions of it, threatening in a linear line of battle to their left. Instead of forming into a similar line of attack, the French battalions formed into columns, fixed their bayonets and marched forward.[21]

As the French advanced, not yet in bayonet range, they came within musketry range; disciplined Prussian volleys shredded their orderly columns. Then Moller's artillery tore some additional gaps. The leading ranks faltered; the following ranks crowded into them. Frederick's infantry advanced, still firing. Finally, Seydlitz led his cavalry in their third assault: black horses riding flank-to-flank mounted by tall men with long swords loomed over the already disorganized infantry. Three regiments of Franconian Imperial troops threw away their muskets and ran, and the French ran with them. Seydlitz's troops cut down the running Allies until darkness.[21]


Horsemen galloping to battle; lead horseman throws his pipe; following horseman has a trumpet.
When Seydlitz led the cavalry charge, he threw his pipe away, and his troops followed him in their attack.

The battle lasted less than 90 minutes and the last uneven fight of muskets versus bayonets had lasted less than 15. The battle had lasted less than 90 minutes and the last episode of the infantry fight no more than fifteen minutes. Only seven Prussian battalions had engaged with the enemy, and these had expended five to fifteen rounds per man.[18]

Soubise and the Duke, who had received a wound, succeeded in keeping one or two regiments together, but the rest scattered over the countryside. The French and Imperial troops lost six generals, an unusually high count in eighteenth century warfare, although not surprising given the emphasis on cavalry action in this battle. Among the French and German Imperial troops, he counted 1,000 dead (including six generals), 2,400 wounded (including four generals [Note 1]), for a total of 8.3% wounded or dead, and 12.2% missing or captured. Other historians might place the numbers of captured higher, at almost one third.[22] The Prussians also captured eight French generals and 260 officers.[23]

Prussian losses are more controversial. Gaston Bodart counted 169–170 Prussian dead (including seven officers), and 430 wounded (including four generals and 19 officers), or about 2.4% of the total Prussian force. Other sources state that the Prussians lost 500.[24] Seydlitz and Prince Henry of Prussia, the cavalry and the infantry leaders engaged, were both wounded. One colonel was killed, two other officers, and 67 soldiers. Impressively, the Prussians took as trophies 72 cannons (62% of the French/Imperial artillery), seven flags, and 21 standards.[17] The Prussians also captured eight French generals and 260 officers.[23]

The aftermath for the French army was immediate. Soubise has historically taken the blame for the loss, but this may be an unfair assessment. While he did owe his position to his good relationship with Madame de Pompadour, he was neither blessed with extraordinary military acumen nor with the best troops: most of these were with Louis Charles César Le Tellier fighting in the northwest. Soubise's army had approximately 12,000 civilian camp followers in addition to his military contingent of 30,000.[25] After the battle, the Comte de Saint Germain, who commanded the rear guard that struggled to keep up with the fleeing army, complained that his charge had been defective. They had run at the first cannon shot, he was leading a gang of robbers, murders, and cowards who ran at the sound of a gunshot. The French had been notorious on their march across Germany, disorganized by persistent pillaging, and were completely undisciplined.[26]

The Imperial army was not much better, and certainly not the battle-hardened army the Prussians had faced at Kolin. This was the Reichsarmee, an army comprised of units sent by the constituent members of the Holy Roman Empire. Their commander had reported that they were defective in training, administration, armaments, discipline and leadership. The same might be said of their commander, Hildburghausen, an indolent and slow-moving man. Their regimental officers, most lacked even the basic garrison training. These units had little experience working together, much less fighting together, a problem that expressed itself most evidently in the disastrous wheeling pivot. Furthermore, the Reichsarmee came from many principalities, some of which were Protestant, and many of which were unhappy about any alliance with the French; most were more adverse to the French than they were to the Prussians.[26][27] Once news of the battle's uneven resolution spread, there was a certain element of satisfaction among some Germans; the battle could be seen as payment for the years of German suffering under the French behavior in the Rhineland and Palatinate during the invasions of Louis XIV. Mostly, though, Rossbach was significant for Prussia's relationship with Frederick's "Uncle George," and George's "other" subjects. The English were now able to see the advantage of keeping the French occupied on the Continent while they carried on their expansion in North America.[28]


After the battle, Frederick reportedly said: "I won the battle of Rossbach with most of my infantry having their muskets shouldered." Frederick had discovered the use of operational maneuvers and with some 3,500 horsemen, 18 artillery pieces, and 3 battalions of infantry, had defeated an entire army of two combined European powers. Frederick's tactics at Rossbach became a landmark in the history of military art.[29]

Rossbach also highlighted the extraordinary talents of two of Frederick's notable officers, artillery colonel Karl Friedrich von Moller and his cavalry general, Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz. Both men had the much coveted coup d'œil militaire, the ability to see at a glance what must be done to tactical advantage, which allowed them to utilize the artillery and cavalry to full potential. Frederick himself called this "[T]he perfection of that art to learn at one just and determined view the benefits and disadvantages of a country where posts are to be placed and how to act upon the annoyance of the enemy. This is, in a word, the true meaning of a coup d'œil, without which an officer may commit errors of the greatest consequence."[30] On the morning of the battle Frederick had passed over two senior generals and placed Seydlitz in command of the whole of his cavalry, much to those men's annoyance and to Seydlitz' satisfaction. Seydlitz had spent the interim of the peace (1748–1756) training the cavalry to perform at optimum speed and force. Moller had invested the interim in developing a highly mobile artillery force. His artillery engineers were trained the same as hussars, to ride to a battle and fight dismounted; in the case of the artillery, they dragged their guns around the battlefield as needed. This was not yet the flying artillery that Frederick developed later, but it was similar in structure and function. Later developments refined the training and usage.[18]

Furthermore, the battle was one instance in which Moller's and Seydlitz's coup d'œil became especially apparent, and in which his understanding of the King's objectives, his awareness of Frederick's operational objectives led to battlefield success. Not content with the single attack, the coup de main, Seydlitz withdrew his squadrons into a copse, where they regrouped under cover of the trees. When the moment was right, he led his cavalry forward again in the coup de grâce, the finishing blow. Moller's cannonade was so thorough the concussion of the bombardment could be felt several miles away. Rossbach proved that the column as a means of tactical deployment on battlefield was inferior to the Prussian battle line; the massed columns simply could not hold in the face of either Moller's fire or Seydlitz's cavalry charge; the greater the formation of men, the greater the loss of life and limb.[18]

map showing the journey from Rossbach to Leuthen
Upon learning that the Austrians had slowly retaken parts of Silesia, Frederick and his troops marched east toward Breslau.

While Frederick was engaging the combined Allied forces further west, over the fall the Austrians had managed to slowly retake Silesia: Prince Charles had taken the city of Schweidnitz and moved on Breslau in lower Silesia. While heading back to Silesia, Frederick learned of the fall of Breslau (22 November). He and his 22,000 men reversed tracks, and covered 274 km (170 mi) in 12 days and, at Liegnitz, joined with the Prussian troops who had survived the fighting at Breslau. The augmented army of about 33,000 troops arrived near Leuthen (now Lutynia, Poland), 27 km (17 mi) west of Breslau, to find 66,000 Austrians in possession.[31]

The Battle of Rossbach marked a turning point in the Seven Years' War, not only for its stunning victory, but because France refused to send troops against Prussia again and Britain increased its financial support for Frederick.[32] French interest for the so-called Prussian war declined sharply after the Rossbach debacle and, with the signing of Third Treaty of Versailles in March 1759, France reduced its financial and military contributions to the coalition, leaving Austria on its own to deal with Prussia in Central Europe.[33]

Battlefield today[edit]

From 1865–1990, the area was mined for lignite. The extensive open-cast mining operations caused fundamental changes in the landscape and the population: a total of 18 settlements and some 12,500 people were resettled over the time of the mining and manufacturing. Residents of Rossbach itself were resettled in 1963 and most of the town was destroyed by mining operations in 1963. Today, most of the battlefield is covered in some farmland, vineyards and a nature park created from flooding the old mine with water; the resulting lake has a surface area of 18.4 km2 (7 sq mi); at its deepest point, the lake is 78 m (256 ft) deep.[34] In the course of filling the old pit, archaeologists found fossils 251–243 million years old.[35]

A museum dedicated to the battle in Reichardtswerben, near Rossbach, contains several artifacts and a large diorama of the battle.[36]

Four separate monuments dedicated to the battle were erected in the town of Reichardtswerben. The first monument was erected 16 September 1766, in gratitude to God for sparing the town of Reichardtswerben during the battle.[36] The K2169 (Kreis roadway) passing through Reichertswerben is named Seydlitz Strasse.[37]

Monument at Reichartswerben 
Monument at Rossbach 
Burgwerben Memorial 
Rossbach and Environs
In 1903, the Imperial Army conducted maneuvers on part of the old battle field. 
Near Reichartswerben 
Near Branderoda 
Thomas Carlyle referred to the hills as negligible. 
The Geiseltal, covering the old pit mine, now covers the battlefield. 
Part of the lake 
Panorama of the principal location of the battle today. 
Panorama of the principal location of the battle today. 

Notes and citations[edit]


  1. ^ The fallen French generals included Guy Nicolas de Durfort de Lorges, Comte de Durfort; Philippe-Joseph, Comte de Custine, father of the French Revolutionary Wars general Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine) Comte de Doyat; Vicomte de Lafayette, the father of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, although Lafayette's father is occasionally identified as among the dead at the Battle of Minden in 1759, but Gaston Bodart, who usually got these kinds of details right, places him at Rossbach. Comte de Revel; and Brigadier Paul, Duke Beauvilliers. See (German)Bodart, p. 220.


  1. ^ Peter H. Wilson, The Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire. Penguin, 2016, pp. 478–479.
  2. ^ D.B. Horn, "The Diplomatic Revolution" in J.O. Lindsay, ed., The New Cambridge Modern History vol. 7, The Old Regime: 1713–63 (1957): pp 449–64.
  3. ^ Jeremy Black, Essay and Reflection: On the 'Old System' and the Diplomatic Revolution' of the Eighteenth Century, International History Review (1990) 12:2 pp. 301–323.
  4. ^ Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2007, p. 302.
  5. ^ Tim Blanning, Frederick the Great: King of Prussia. Random House Publishing Group, 2016, p. 232.
  6. ^ Robert B. Asprey, Frederick the Great: The Magnificent Enigma. Ticknor & Fields, 1986, p. 460.
  7. ^ a b Daniel Marston, The Seven Years' War, London; Osprey, 2001 page 22.
  8. ^ David Stone, A Military History of Russia: From Ivan the Terrible to the War in Chechnya, New York; Praeger, 2006, p.70
  9. ^ Anderson, p. 176.
  10. ^ Marston, p. 41.
  11. ^ a b c d J. F. C. Fuller, A Military History Of The Western World, Vol. II: From The Defeat Of The Spanish Armada To The Battle Of Waterloo, Da Capo Press, 1987 pp. 202–203.
  12. ^ (German) Gaston Bodart, Militär-historisches Kriegs-Lexikon, (1618–1905). Vienna, Stern, 1908, p. 220.
  13. ^ Bernhard von Poten, Mayer, Johann von, Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Band 21 (1885), S. 108–109
  14. ^ Herbert J. Redman,Frederick the Great and the Seven Years' War, 1756–1763. McFarland. 2015, p. 123.
  15. ^ a b Redman, pp. 123–124.
  16. ^ a b c d e J. F. C. Fuller, A Military History Of The Western World, Vol. II:From The Defeat Of The Spanish Armada To The Battle Of Waterloo. De Capo, 1987. pp. 203–206.
  17. ^ a b c (German) Bodart, p. 220.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Redman, pp. 130–136.
  19. ^ Charles Hastings Collette, The Handy Book of Company Drill and Practical Instructor, Etc, Houlston & Wright, 1862, pp. 227–33.
  20. ^ Dennis E. Showalter,Frederick the Great: A Military History. Frontline Books, 2012, p.188.
  21. ^ a b Showalter, p. 190.
  22. ^ Daniel Baugh, The Global Seven Years War 1754–1763, Routledge, 2014, p. 275.
  23. ^ a b Blanning, p. 236.
  24. ^ Christopher Clark, Histoire de la Prusse, Perrin, Paris, 2009, p. 256.
  25. ^ Showalter, p. 183.
  26. ^ a b Blanning, p. 237.
  27. ^ Showalter, pp. 183–185.
  28. ^ Showalter, p. 192.
  29. ^ Russell F. Weigley, The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitenfeld to Waterloo, Indiana University Press, 2004, p. 185.
  30. ^ Frederick, Particular Instructions, Article 16.
  31. ^ Spencer Tucker, Battles that Changed History: an Encyclopedia of World Conflict. ABC-CLIO, 2010. pp. 233–235.
  32. ^ Friedrich Kohlrausch, A History of Germany: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Chapman and Hall, 1844 , p. 577.
  33. ^ Clark, p. 254–255.
  34. ^ (German) Ein Trio feiert das Flutungsende. In: Mitteldeutsche Zeitung vom 30. April 2011, Zugriff am 1. September 2011 (digital version). See also Hellmund Meinolf (Hrsg.): Das Geiseltal-Projekt 2000. Erste wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse. Hallesches Jahrbuch für Geowissenschaften Beiheft 13, Halle/S. 2001.
  35. ^ Karlheinz Fischer, Die Waldelefanten von Neumark-Nord und Gröbern. Dietrich u. a. (Hrsg.): Neumark-Nord – Ein interglaziales Ökosystem des mittelpaläolithischen Menschen. Veröffentlichungen des Landesmuseums für Vorgeschichte in Halle (62), Halle/Saale 2010, S. 361–37
  36. ^ a b Reichel, Mike. Battle Of Rossbach; Building of Diorama with Church at Reichardtswerben. p. 15. 
  37. ^ See Google Maps. Seydlitz Strasse in Reichertswerben. Accessed 17 April 2017.


  • Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2007, ISBN 9780307425393
  • Asprey, Robert B. Frederick the Great: The Magnificent Enigma. Ticknor & Fields. 1986. ISBN 978-0-89919-352-6.
  • Baugh, Daniel. The Global Seven Years War 1754–1763. Routledge, 2014, ISBN 9781138171114
  • Black, Jeremy. Essay and Reflection: On the 'Old System' and the Diplomatic Revolution' of the Eighteenth Century. International History Review (1990) 12:2 pp. 301–323.
  • Blanning, Tim. Frederick the Great: King of Prussia. Random House Publishing Group, 2016. ISBN 978-0-8129-8873-4.
  • (German) Bodart, Gaston. Militär-historisches Kriegs-Lexikon, (1618–1905). Stern, 1908. OCLC 799884224
  • Citino, Robert M. The German Way of War: from the Thirty Years War to the Third Reich, University Press of Kansas, 2005. ISBN 9780700616244
  • (French) Clark, Christopher Histoire de la Prusse, Perrin, 2009 ISBN 9782262047467
  • Duffy, Christopher, The Military Life of Frederick the Great, Antheneum, 1986. ISBN 0-689-11548-2
  • Frederick, King of Prussia. Particular Instructions, Article 16. T. Egerton, Military Library, 1824. OCLC 17329080
  • Fuller, J. F. C. Fuller, A Military History Of The Western World, Vol. II: From The Defeat Of The Spanish Armada To The Battle Of Waterloo, Da Capo Press, 1987 ISBN 9780306803055
  • Horn, D.B. "The Diplomatic Revolution" in J.O. Lindsay, ed., The New Cambridge Modern History vol. 7, The Old Regime: 1713–63 (1957): pp 449–64. ISBN 9780511469008
  • Kohlrausch, Friedrich. A History of Germany: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Chapman and Hall, 1844 OCLC 610585185
  • Marston, Daniel The Seven Years' War, Osprey, 2001. ISBN 9781472809926
  • Poten, Bernhard von. Mayer, Johann von, Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Band 21 (1885), S. 108–109.
  • Redman, Redman, J. Frederick the Great and the Seven Years' War, 1756–1763. McFarland 2015. ISBN 978-0-7864-7669-5.
  • Showalter, Dennis E. Frederick the Great: A Military History. Frontline Books, 2012. ISBN 978-1-78303-479-6.
  • Stone, David. A Military History of Russia: From Ivan the Terrible to the War in Chechnya, Praeger, 2006. ISBN 9780275985028
  • Weigley, Russel.The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitenfeld to Waterloo, Indiana University Press, 2004, ISBN 9780253217073
  • Peter H. Wilson, The Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire. Penguin, 2016, ISBN 9780674058095

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]