Emperor William First - George Upton

The Austro-Prussian War

At Gastein, as has already been stated, the Schleswig-Holstein affair had been brought to a settlement, but it was only a preliminary one. Fresh disputes soon broke out between the two powers. Austria, already regretting her compliance, inclined more and more to the side of the enemies of Prussia, who wished to restore the independence of Schleswig and Holstein and make them part of the Confederation. The old jealousy broke forth anew, and, unable to reconcile herself to any real increase of Prussian power, Austria attempted to force King William to yield to the wishes of the Confederation. Laying before the Diet the danger of permitting Prussia to have its way, she succeeded in having a motion carried to oppose that power. Convinced that war was again inevitable, King William declared all former negotiations off; and urged Saxony, Hanover, and electoral Hesse to form an alliance preserving their neutrality. But here, too, meeting with a repulse, he was forced to put his whole army in the field and enter the struggle alone. His real feelings on the subject are evident from his parting words to Prince Frederick Charles after war had been declared and the march of troops into the enemy's country had begun:

"I am an old man to be making war again, and well know that I must answer for it to God and to my conscience. Yet I can truthfully declare that I have done all in my power to avert it. I have made every concession to the Emperor that is consistent with the honor of Prussia, but Austria is bent on our humiliation and nothing short of war will satisfy her."

Thus with a firm faith in God's help and the righteousness of his cause the aged monarch placed himself at the head of his army, resolved to perish with it rather than yield in this vital question. Nor did he trust in vain. By forced marches Generals Vogel von Falkenstein and von Manteuffel invaded northern Germany, took possession of Hanover, and forced King George, after a gallant resistance at Langensalza, to capitulate, abdicate his throne, and abandon the country permanently. The main army, divided into three parts, commanded respectively by the Crown Prince, Prince Frederick Charles, and General Herwarth von Bittenfeld, speedily overran the enemy's country, and before the King had left for the seat of war he was informed by telegraph of the victories of Skalitz and Munchengratz, of Nachod and Trautenau. The first decisive results had been accomplished by the Crown Prince, and on the morning of June 29 the King joyfully shouted to the people from the open window of the palace: "My son has won a victory—good news from all quarters! All is well—my brave army!" The next day he left Berlin, and on July 2 reached Gitschin in Bohemia, where he was welcomed with joy by Prince Frederick Charles and his victorious troops. On the following day occurred one of the most famous battles of history—that of Koniggratz.

The King had just lain down to rest the previous night on the plain iron camp cot that accompanied him everywhere, when Lieutenant General von Voigts-Rhetz reached Gitschin with the news that the Austrians were stationed between the Prussian army and the Elbe. King William at once summoned his great strategist, General von Moltke, and Adjutant Count von Finkenstein was hastily despatched to the Crown Prince with orders to bring up his army, which was then in the mountains of Silesia. The guns were already booming from the neighboring heights and the smoke of battle beginning to fill the valleys like a mist when the King mounted his favorite mare Sadowa at the little village of Kleinitz, early on the morning of July 3, and dashed into the thick of the fray. The fire was so sharp that his staff, large enough to have been easily taken for a regiment of cavalry, was forced to scatter, but finally reached a position on the Roscoberg, where Count Finkenstein soon appeared with word that the Crown Prince was already on the march. Hour after hour passed, however, and nothing was to be seen of him. The issue was critical, and King William's anxiety grew more and more intense, until at last, about two o'clock in the afternoon, the guns of the Crown Prince were heard in the enemy's rear and the day was won. The Austrians were soon in full flight and were pursued as far as the Elbe by the victorious foe.

Soon after the Crown Prince's arrival the King left the Roscoberg and, followed by his staff, rode down into the battle-field, urging the men to fresh valor by his inspiring presence, and disregard of danger from the enemy's fire. None of his escort dared remonstrate with him, until at length the faithful Bismarck summoned courage and, riding up beside the King, begged him not to place his life in such jeopardy. Kindly but earnestly he answered: "You have done right, my friend. But when these brave fellows are under fire, the King's place is with them. How can I retire?

The results of this splendid victory were decisive, but the chief glory rests with the Crown Prince, whose troops after a long and exhausting march arrived just in time to save the day. It was a touching moment when the father and son met upon the field of battle, and all eyes were wet as the King, embracing Prince Frederick with fatherly pride, pinned on his breast the Order of Merit. The crushing defeat of Koniggratz effectually broke the enemy's resistance, and the Prussians had advanced almost within sight of Vienna when the announcement of a truce put an end to hostilities.

In southern Germany the army of the Main under General Vogel von Falkenstein had also ended the struggle by a series of successful engagements, and

on August 23 a treaty of peace was signed at Prague, by which Austria agreed to withdraw from the German Confederation; and Schleswig-Holstein, Hanover, electoral Hesse, Nassau, and the free city of Frankfort-on-the-Main were permanently incorporated with Prussia. Thus were King William's labors at last crowned with success. Alone and almost without a friend in Germany he had gone forth to battle against a powerful enemy, and victory had been his. Beyond the Alps, however, he had found a friend in need in King Victor Emmanuel of Italy, who had aided him by attacking Austria at the same time from the south, thus dividing her forces. Covered with laurels, the victorious troops returned, meeting with ovations everywhere, but especially in Berlin. The whole city was en fete  to welcome them. Triumphal arches were erected. Countless wreaths, banners, and garlands of flowers decorated the streets. Strains of music, pealing of bells, thunder of cannon proclaimed the arrival of the army, as it entered the city gates, headed by the heroic monarch and greeted with tumultuous shouts by the populace. An altar had been erected in the Lustgarten, where a praise service was held, the troops and people joining in singing "Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott."  The eleventh of November was appointed as a day of general thanksgiving throughout the country, and trees were planted everywhere in commemoration of the joyful occasion.

The results of this war did even more than those of the preceding one with Denmark to prove the wisdom of the King's position in regard to the army, besides the large increase of territory it brought to Prussia. By far the most important issue of the campaign, however, was the establishment of the North German Confederation and the conclusion of an offensive and defensive alliance between this and the South German States, by which both agreed to respect the inviolability of each other's territory and bound themselves in time of war to place their whole military force at the other's disposal, the chief command of the united armies to be intrusted in such case to King William of Prussia. Thus did our august hero advance slowly but surely toward the realization of his hopes and aims, and visions of a restoration of the glories of the ancient holy German Empire already thrilled the hearts of patriots with a promise of the final fulfilment of their long-cherished dreams, as the King in his magnificent speech before the Imperial Diet on February 24, 1867, painted in glowing terms the future of a united Fatherland. Even the Prussian House of Deputies were weary of the long contention, and in the face of the universal recognition and admiration awarded their sovereign's achievements, it abandoned its opposition to the government, and the King's courage and perseverance were at last rewarded.