Schleswig-Holstein Wars

Denmark — versus — German Confederacy

Prussian Field Marshall
Schleswig and Holdstein were two duchies, located at the base of the Jutland Peninsula, that were long associated with the kingdom of Denmark. By the mid-19th century, however, there was a movement for independence from Denmark and a closer alignment with the German federation. There were three factors favoring independence. First, there was a large German-speaking population in both provinces, and the majority of the population in Holstein was German. Second, by the mid 19th century, there was talk of building a canal through the region, and control of a waterway linking the North and Baltic Seas would be of enormous strategic importance. Third, the laws of succession in the two duchies differed from that of Denmark, and given the infertility of Frederick VII of Denmark, a succession dispute was anticipated at his death.

In 1848, revolutions across Europe unsettled the established order, and Schleswig-Holstein separatists used demonstrations in Copenhagen as a pretext for declaring their independence, knowing that Prussia would come to their aid. Several battles with Denmark followed, but the matter was resolved in favor of Denmark by diplomatic, rather than military means. A long-term peaceful solution to the issue was only possible if England, France, Russia and other European nations were willing to recognize the separation of Schleswig-Holstein from Denmark, and in 1850, they were unwilling to do so.

It was not until shortly after Bismarck became Chancellor of Prussia that a resolution in favor of German interests came about. A military conflict between Denmark and the German states re-occurred in 1864, but this time the military victories were decisively in favor of the Germans. More importantly, however, Otto von Bismarck had laid the groundwork for a diplomatic solution that allowed the other European powers to acquiesce to Denmark's loss of its two southern provinces. In general, the great European powers opposed independence for break-away provinces, and all were jealous of the increasing influence of Prussia. Knowing this, Bismarck made no immediate attempt to bring the provinces under his control, but rather generously, ceded governance to Austria. In retrospect, this was all part of a carefully laid plan to gain control of the entire region for Prussia, but Bismarck's diplomatic goal during the Second Schlegwig-Holstein War was merely to set up chess pieces. His final blow was not delivered for two years, until he had time to draw Austria into the Austro Prussian War, and destroy her influence over Northern Europe.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Düppel   Prussians victory
This fortress, protected by an outer chain of ten redoubts, was invested by the Prussians, 16,000 strong, under Prince Frederick Charles, and the first parallel opened, March 30, 1864. The Danish garrison numbered 22,000. On April 17, after a heavy bombardment, the Prussians were launched at the first six of the chain of redoubts, and, after a brief resistance, they were captured and the place was immediately afterwards surrendered. The Prussians lost 70 officers and 1,331 men, the Danes, including prisoners, 5,500.
Battle of Alsen (Border Raids ) Prussians victory
This island, in which the Danish garrison of Duppel had taken refuge, was captured by the Prussians, who crossed from the mainland in boats on the night of June 29, 1864, and under a heavy fire carried the Danish entrenchments, and compelled them to surrender. This was the last engagement of the war.

Short Biography
Helmuth von Moltke Military mastermind of the Austro-Prussian, and Franco-Prussian Wars.
Otto von Bismarck Prussian statesman and mastermind of German Unification. Strategically provoked wars against Austria and France.

Story Links
Book Links
Schleswig-Holstein  in    by  
Schleswig and Holstein  in  The History of Prussia  by  John S.C. Abbott