October 14, 1758

In May and June 1758, Frederick invaded Moravia and besieged Olmutz, but was later forced to abandon the siege and withdraw.  With a Russian army on his eastern border, Frederick rushed to battle them at Zorndorf, after which the Russians withdrew.  Meanwhile, the Austrians under Daun had proceeded to Saxony hoping to captured Dresden, however Frederick moved into the area and blocked them.  With another Austrian force besieging Neisse and Kosel to the east, Frederick advanced against Daun, taking Bautzen.  Stopping at Hochkirch on October 10th, Frederick planned on attacking Daun's army in a formidable position to his front by moving against the Austrian right.  Before he could do so, however, Frederick decided to wait four days for a supply convoy to arrive from Dresden.  Daun had 80,000 men to Frederick's 30,000.  Before Frederick was ready, Daun decided to act.  

Daun's chief of staff Lt. Gen Franz Moritz Lacy conceived a night attack on Frederick's camp - against the Prussian front to fix their attention, but more importantly on the Prussian right, or southern, flank where considerable damage could be done.  Frederick's right, composed of 11 battalions and 28 squadrons, was at the village of Hochkirch.  Immediately south of the village was a small redoubt with smaller works on either side with a total of twenty 12 pounders plus six smaller pieces protected by three battalions of grenadiers.  The Prussian artillery overlooked and dominated open terrain.  Out front beyond some woods were two Prussian 'free battalions' - light infantry - but they were poorly placed to detect the planned Austrian attack.  Further south was the Wuischke hollow hidden from Prussian view, beyond which the ground rose to the Kuppritzer-Berg, a hill occupied by Croats.   

Lacy's plan was unique in that it featured several independent columns that converged on the Prussian flank, something that had not been attempted before.  In addition, on the advice of Col. Charles Amadei, the independent forces not only approached the Prussian position in column, but attacked in column as well.  This type of plan, entirely new in concept, would remain a feature of Austrian operations into the French Revolutionary Wars.  

As Frederick was delayed by circumstances, so was Daun.  Clearing a route through the woods on the Kuppritzer-Berg took time, delaying the attack from the 12th to the 14th.

A) Forgach and D'Aynse's Columns

When night fell, the Austrians kept their camp intact and their tents in position and started campfires attended by a few of the men.  The majority, however, went on the march across the Kuppritzer-Berg to reach their attack positions.  The early morning of October 14th was cloudy and misty when at 5am, the Austrians launched several signal rockets.  The Austrians drove in the Prussian pickets and advancing from the projection of woods just 600 yards from the enemy, soon captured the Prussian earthworks.  A few Austrian troops had even entered the Prussian earthworks on the pretense of being deserters!  The two Austrian columns continued through to Hochkirch.

At his headquarters in Rodewitz to the north of Hochkirch, Frederick was awakened by his staff.  Quite annoyed, Frederick smashed a pane of glass and angrily proclaimed that the firing that was heard was only Croats harassing his men - even as bullets struck the building.  Fredrick dismissed a report that the redoubts south of Hochkirch had been captured, only changing his tune when the captured Prussian guns were turned on the Prussian camp.  

B) Loundon's Column

Southwest of Hochkirch, Loundon's column had advanced further west and approached the Prussian flank and rear at an angle.  O'Donnell's column had continued further and was attacking the rear of the Prussian flank directly from Steindorfel.


C)  O'Donnell's Column

This is the general view of O'Donnell's column, 20 squadrons of cavalry with 4 battalions of infantry in front, as it attacked toward Hochkirch.  Meeting Prussian fire at the Locksmith's Inn, the Austrian pushed back the Prussian cavalry toward Hochkirch.

Prussian Tent Captured at Hochkirch on Display at Esterhazy Castle

O'Donnell's men reached the outskirts of Hochkirch and overran the camps of some Prussian grenadiers, who were just now waking up.  As this was happening, the column heard cavalry to their right - not Prussian but rather the head of Loudon's column.

Zieten order Major General Krockow to charge the Austrian infantry south of Hochkirch.  Krockow was mortally wounded, but prisoners and an Austrian flag were captured.  Despite this, the battle went poorly for the Prussians, who lost formation. 



As the battle first reach Hochkirch, around 50 men under Lt. Marwitz held the churchyard wall from an attack by 50 Austrian grenadiers.  Another attack on the north church gate by 40 Austrians was repulsed, but Marwitz was killed in the process.  In the midst of all the confusion, the second battalion of Margrave Carl under Major Langen remained intact, arriving at the churchyard, then fighting from behind the Hochkirch churchyard walls.  As other Prussian forces from the center moved south to stave off disaster, Langen's men bought time, and other Prussians in the narrow streets suffered as well.  One street is now named "Blutgasse" on account of the blood that was shed there, and there are stories of Prussian troops packed so tightly that the dead remained upright.  Hand to hand fighting was common.  As the Prussian army was forced from the field, Langen attempted a breakout but was wounded, eleven times, and died of his wounds - as many of his men died.


Among those who rushed south toward Hochkirch was Field Marshal Keith, who sent Frederick the message, "Tell the king I shall old out here to the last man and give the army a chance to assemble.  We are in the hands of God, and I doubt whether we shall see each other again!"  He was correct - killed while counterattacking the Austrians.  Prince Moritz of Anhalt-Dessau, another Field Marshal, suffered an incapacitating wound, and the queen's brother was killed.  Frederick's army rallied at Pommritz, north of Hochkirch, and repulsed an attack by O'Donnell that had the potential to cut off the army's line of retreat.  Fearing disorder and nearly out of ammunition, Daun ordered a halt at 9:30, having lost around 8,000 men.  Daun had dealt a terrible blow to Frederick yet failed to annihilate his enemy.  The commanders of the dispersed columns had been given imprecise orders, a rarity at the time, and perhaps lacked the initiative needed to complete the victory.  The temporary organization of the columns had also presented a problem as the units were not as practiced and cohesive as permanent ones.  The battle at Hochkirch was a beginning, though, of a move away from strictly controlled linear formations toward a looser, more decentralized system like in Napoleon's time.

In all, Frederick lost 9,000 men that day out of roughly 30,000.  Two field marshals, four generals, and 104 guns were among the losses.  That night Frederick contemplated suicide with eighteen opium pills.  Several days later he received news of the death of his sister Wilhelmine.  Overconfident and neglecting security, Frederick had suffered a terrible defeat at Hochkirch.  Daun, however, did not exploit his victory.  When a reinforcement of several battalions under Prince Henry arrived, Frederick secretly marched around Daun east into Silesia, relieving the siege of Neisse.  Daun moved toward Dresden, hoping to recapture it.  Frederick, however, returned to Saxony, saving Dresden and ending the campaigning season.  Disaster had been averted, at least for 1758.  The war would grind on for several more years.

Copyright 2012-13 by John Hamill

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