Austro-Prussian War

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search
It has been suggested that Gastein Convention be merged into this article or section. (Discuss)

The Austro-Prussian War (also called the Seven Weeks' War or the German Civil War) was a war fought between the Austrian Empire and Prussia in 1866 that resulted in Prussian dominance in Germany. In Germany and Austria it is called Deutscher Krieg (German war) or Bruderkrieg (war of brothers). In the Italian unification process, this is the Third Independence War.

Military History of Austria
Military History of Prussia
Conflict Austro-Prussian War
(Seven Weeks' War)
Date 1866
Place Bohemia, Germany, Italy and Adriatic Sea
Result Prussian victory
Battles of the Austro-Prussian War
Austrian Empire and several minor German States Prussia, Italy, and several minor German States
600,000 500,000 Germans
300,000 Italians
20,000 dead or wounded 37,000 dead or wounded (German and Italian)



For centuries, the Holy Roman Emperors in Austria had nominally ruled all of Germany, but the powerful nobles maintained de facto independence with the assistance of outside powers, particularly France. Prussia had become the most powerful of these states, and by the nineteenth century was considered one of the great powers of Europe. After the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, French influence in Germany was weak and nationalist ideals spread across Europe. Many observers saw that conditions were developing for the unification of Germany, and two different ideas of unification developed. One was a Grossdeutschland that would include the multi-national empire of Austria, and the other (preferred by Prussia) was a Kleindeutschland that would exclude Austria and be dominated by Prussia.

Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck became chancellor of Prussia in 1862, and immediately began a policy focused on uniting Germany as a Kleindeutschland under Prussian rule. Having raised German national consciousness by convincing Austria to join him in the Second war of Schleswig, he then provoked a conflict over the administration of the conquered provinces of Schleswig-Holstein (as formulated by the Gastein Convention). Austria declared war and called for the armies of the minor German states to join them.


Most of the German states sided with Austria against Prussia, perceived as the aggressor. These included Saxony, Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, Hesse-Darmstadt and Nassau.

Some of the northern German states joined Prussia, in particular Oldenburg, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and Brunswick. Also, Italy joined with Prussia, because Austria still occupied the territory of Venetia which Italian irredentists wanted in order to complete Italian unification.

Notably, the other foreign powers abstained from this war. French Emperor Napoleon III, who expected an Austrian victory, chose to remain out of the war to strengthen his negotiating position for territory along the Rhine, while Russia still bore a grudge against Austria from the Crimean War.

Course of the War

The first major war between two continental powers in many years, this war used many of the same technologies as the American Civil War, including the use of railroads to concentrate troops during mobilization and the use of telegraphs to enhance long distance communication.

The main campaign of the war occurred in Bohemia. Prussian Chief of the General Staff Helmuth von Moltke had planned meticulously for the war, and chose to mostly ignore the minor states in favor of a concentration against Austria. He rapidly mobilized the Prussian army and advanced across the border into Saxony and Bohemia, where the Austrian army was concentrating for an invasion of Silesia. There, the Prussian armies led personally by King Wilhelm converged, and the two sides met at the Battle of Königgrätz (Sadová) on July 3. Superior Prussian organization and élan decided the battle against Austrian numerical superiority, and the victory was near total, with Austrian battle deaths nearly seven times the Prussian figure. It is worth noting that Prussia was equipped with von Dreyse's breech-loading needle-gun, which was vastly superior to Austria's muzzle-loaders. Austria rapidly sought peace after this battle.

Except for Saxony, the other German states allied to Austria played little role in the main campaign. Hanover's army defeated Prussia at Langensalza on June 27, but within a few days they were forced to surrender by superior numbers. Prussian armies fought against Bavaria on the Main River, reaching Nuremberg and Frankfurt.

The Austrians were more successful in their war with Italy, defeating the Italians on land at the battle of Custoza (June 24) and on sea at the battle of Lissa (July 20). Garibaldi's "Hunters of the Alps" defeated the Austrians at battle of Bezzecca, on 21 July, conquered the lower part of Trentino, and moved towards Trento. Prussian peace with Austria-Hungary forced the Italian government to seek an armistice with Austria, on 12 August. According to Treaty of Vienna, signed on October 12, Austria-Hungary ceded Venetia to France, which in turn ceded it to Italy.


In order to forestall intervention by France or Russia, Bismarck pushed the king to make peace with the Austrians rapidly, rather than continue the war in hopes of further gains. The Austrians accepted mediation from France's Napoleon III. The Treaty of Prague on August 23, 1866 resulted in the dissolution of the German Confederation, Prussian annexation of Schleswig-Holstein, Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, Nassau, and Frankfurt, and the exclusion of Austria from German affairs. This left Prussia free to form the North German Confederation the next year. Prussia chose not to seek Austrian territory for itself, and this made it possible for Prussia and Austria to ally in the future, since Austria was threatened more by Italian and Pan-Slavic irredentism than by Prussia.

The war left Prussia dominant in Germany, and German nationalism would compel the remaining independent states to ally with Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, and then to accede to the crowning of King Wilhelm as German Emperor. United Germany would become one of the most powerful of the European countries.

Personal tools