Meanwhile, Frederick still faced Field Marshal Leopold Reichsgraf von Daun in Silesia. So the province was exposed only to the eastern side, and quickly the king decided he would again have to go beyond the Oder to face the Russian threat. They had to be kept from rendezvousing with the Austrians, at all costs. This was clearly his most urgent task. Prince Henry was to hold Saxony. Other forces were to keep their opponents busy as well. Frederick finally heard the news of Wedell’s vanquishment late on the day after the battle, and made ready to go face the foe.
He had also to intercept an Austrian detachment, direct from Daun’s army, before it could reach the Russians. Daun, not surprisingly, had been reluctant to march to join Soltikov himself, but he was aware that Laudon had served ten years in the Russian army before joining the Austrians. His first choice had been with Frederick the Great and his army, but the Prussian monarch had taken an immediate dislike to him and rejected Laudon, no doubt later regretting his decision.
Lieutenant-General Andreas Graf von Futal Hadik had been detached early in the campaign as had Laudon (with forces of 20,000 and 16,000 men, respectively). Both had been in front of Prince Henry, so Frederick ordered his brother to keep an eye on them. Henry’s forward elements, led by Major-General Friedrich Augustus von Finck, moved forward to Bautzen (July 11) with that in mind. Prince Henry wrote his royal brother that from there he and the latter’s army might be able together to contain Daun and the forces of Laudon. The irascible Laudon’s job while Daun was encamped at Mark-Lissa was to shield the left side of the main Austrian army, while General Beck, ensconced at Gebhardsdorf, performed the same for the right wing. Laudon promptly attacked the Prussians at Grieffenberg, under General Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz, but was repulsed with the loss of some 300 men.
Hadik was engaged in a bit of waltzing himself. He brought together a force at Grosshennersdorf, and moved (July 24) to intercept Prince Henry, who was sallying forth from Bautzen. Henry’s men suddenly descended on Rudolph Pálffy’s men, who were sheltered at Hochkirch, and, after a brief fight, sent them scurrying for shelter with Marshal Daun. This disturbing news made Daun realize at once that the bluecoats had no intention of letting a rendezvous between the main Austrian and the Russian armies take place. At least not without having something to say—and do—about it.
Meanwhile, in his corner, General Colonel Johann Heinrich von Ried had been rather energetically pressing the Hessians in the immediate vicinity, as they were pro–Prussian and did not respond readily to calls for neutrality or even giving due respect to the Imperialist army. Ried had at his disposal the dreaded Szėchėny Hussars. This body, accompanied by a force of Croats (with specific instructions to damage the enemy’s war effort), invaded the territory of Halberstadt, forcing prominent citizens of the region to flee and exacting contributions, seizing hostages for ransom, and plundering Halberstadt itself (July 21). This in spite of the fact that some 80,000 talers had been coughed up by the inhabitants to prevent looting/plunder.
Pfalzgraf Friedrich Michael von Zweibrücken-Birkenfeld pulled Major-General Gabriel Georg Luzinsky back, on to Münchberg, although the base activity of the Reich troops at the moment (aside from those committing terrible atrocities) was certainly involved with raising contributions and finding food for man and beast. Nor were these kinds of activities limited to just the territory of the “enemy” by any means.
Major-General Charles, Marquis DeVille was by no means done in Silesia. He should have left well enough alone. The advance was carried on by some 20,000 or so men, which started forward (July 20) with some determination. DeVille’s patrols made it to Freiburg, but the ready Prussians tried to entrap his men nearby. DeVille ordered a withdrawal, but Major-General Franz Maximilian Jahnus, trying to evict the bluecoats from rises near Gottersberg, miscarried badly (July 27), and had to retire. The Austrian force was unable to retreat by the direct route, as the Prussians had sealed off the penetration. DeVille withdrew by Gersdorf into Bohemia, but not quickly enough to prevent Major-General Gottlob Ephraim Wolfersdorff with a large force of above 5,000 men from being viciously attacked by Fouquet’s men, late on July 31, at Goldisnole. Wolfersdorff did escape, but not without loss.
Prince Henry was still about in maneuvering, all right. But he left only frail guard forces in Dresden (greatly inferior in number to the opposing forces) to protect it from enemy raiders, led by General Joseph von Brentano-Cimaroli. Henry was able to push Laudon back to Lauban as he was striving forward in the direction of Sagan, apparently to link up with Soltikov. Frankly, Frederick had not approached the mission of Wedell with high expectations, and was actually rather complacent about accepting its failure. He was also quite aware that his own army was busy with Daun, consequently, to move it might entail risking reoccupation of Saxony and/or Silesia by the foe. On the other hand, Henry’s men could be safely disengaged, although Frederick, whether justifiably or not, was not overly confident of Henry’s capability to stem the Russian tide.
The solution was obvious: exchange commands. Saxony was to be left to Finck with 10,000 men, and he was also responsible for covering Berlin. The king hoped that the earlier raids would trip up the Imperialists.
Hadik had not been inactive. July 14, Major-General Johann Sigismund Graf von Inniskillin MacQuire peeled off from the main body on to Aussig. In short order, MacQuire pressed to Hainspach (July 26), and to near Dresden the next day. The situation was not bad, from the Imperialist point of view. For a change. The attention of both the Prussian king and Prince Henry was shifting towards Silesia/Brandenburg and the Russians, while the French were keeping Ferdinand busy in western Germany. Zweibrücken did not fail to realize the opportunity being offered, and he readily took it.
August 1, the Reich troops seized the mantle; Zweibrücken put his headquarters at Naumburg, while Baron Stephen von Vecsey took over Halle, riding roughshod through the place, robbing everyone who could be found of their valuables. Halle groaned under the occupation of Reich troops until August 24, and even then the invaders departed with most of the available supplies and money in the area. The behavior of the Reich troops when they were in Prussian territory, unpalatable at best, makes claims of Prussian cruelty in the allied territories appear hypocritical by comparison. The Austrians were just confident enough to expect the Reich troops to do something; if only in the absence of serious opposition.
As for the Prussians, Frederick did not ignore the enemy in Saxony. He sent instructions to the Commandant of Leipzig, Major-General Friedrich Christian von Hauss, to threaten to burn down the place if pressed too hard. In actual practice, Hauss, with over 2,000 men, was hoping to hold as long as possible. Colonel von Widmann appeared before Leipzig on August 4, but the arrival of General General Wenzel Matthias Huogek Freiherr von Kleefeld the next day, did much to hurry things along on their “natural” course. Before dawn the next morning, Leipzig was officially in Imperialist hands, although the garrison would need time to take the proffered “Free Withdrawal” and march off. Unfortunately, as Hauss marched out on Düben on August 7, he was unable to stem the flow of prisoners, to the tune of about 780 men of various nationalities, who had to be turned over to the Imperialists, as one of the conditions of withdrawal.
Flushed with success, Zweibrücken concentrated his main force near Naumburg. There was hope for a fleeting moment that the Prussians would “go gentle into that good night” but nothing doing! Rumors had General Finck bringing a force of 6,000 men to Torgau to directly counter the Imperialists. It was a matter of some urgency if the Reich troops were to accomplish anything meaningful before the bluecoats could spoil the party, so to speak.
By August 10, Zweibrücken was near Sellershausen, when word arrived of the defeat of the French at Minden by Prince Ferdinand. This raised some anxiety in the Imperialist camp, but General Kleefeld was sent to confront Finck. The latter actually paused for the moment at Hoyerswerda. Prussian scouts reported the Reich Army was approaching, so Finck reacted by ordering Wolfersdorfe to move from Senftenberg to the essential point of Torgau, an important base for the bluecoats in holding Saxony. Finck moved on Torgau on August 3, but new orders arrived almost immediately. Finck was ordered to march to join the king, who was preparing to confront the Russians in the East. The unfolding of events was turning in that direction.
Eugene of Württemberg and a 6,000-man detachment went after Hadik and Lieutenant-Colonel Baron Gideon Ernst Laudon. Prince Henry moved to Sagan on July 29, following orders. Not satisfied, he set off for Schmöttseifen to see his older royal brother. Henry ended up assuming command of the “main” royal army, while Frederick himself set off at about 1600 hours, July 29, to take charge of what had been Henry’s army. Haste was once again of the essence, and the Prussian king was fully cognizant of what was at stake.
Immediately Frederick probed for Laudon’s whereabouts, but, well hidden by a thick veil of Pandours, he simply could not be precisely located. At last, next day, the bluecoat scouts detected the Austrians on the move, aiming for Sommerfeld, ultimately for Crossen and a union with Soltikov, July 31, before the break of day, the king was on the march, his army pointing northwest on Naumburg. At that point, he intended to cross the Bober River. Frederick was in the vanguard with some cavalry. The march of some 20 miles was quickly traversed and the Prussians drove out a party of the enemy posted at Naumburg. The bluecoats took much camp equipage, with 300 wagons full of flour, 50 full of powder, and 1,200 prisoners. At his new locale, the king learned that Laudon was still to the west, and that he was now effectively between the Austrian command of Laudon and the Russians. Soltikov’s decision to cross the Oder at Frankfurt rather than Crossen was a direct impact on Hadik, further disposed towards the Prussians, than the Russians. Hadik reversed course, and moved to Weissegk on August 2.
Frederick’s intentions were fluid at the moment. Hardly had the bluecoats arrived in camp than they learned the enemy had taken Sommerfeld, and were on the point of heading for Guben. Frederick ordered a direct march upon Sommerfeld, to try to come to blows with Laudon. While the Prussians threaded their way forward during the night of July 31–August 1, Laudon made off. At Sommerfeld the next morning, there was no sign of the Austrian detachment. Laudon had been quick to react to Frederick’s appearance upon his projected line of march. As soon as the disturbing word was received from Austrian survivors filtering in from Naumburg, he had quickly altered his projected route.
Laudon’s new path was by Guben, where Hadik stood waiting, but only for a moment. Same day, the king heard that the Russians had moved on Frankfurt. August 2, he tailed off towards Guben, and, after a lengthy march, reached Markersdorf, still some eight miles short of the destination. At Markersdorf, Frederick caught an “enemy supply train” which turned out to be Hadik withdrawing from that front. He had had enough of the dealings there and, after a conference with Laudon at Guben, had decided to turn back while Laudon pushed on to join up with Soltikov. The bluecoats eagerly seized the opportunity to employ their new horsed artillery, which commenced a fire upon the enemy train, while the Krockow Dragoons and Colonel Wilhelm Kleist swooped down upon them from the front. The Austrians never had a chance, despite a resistance of nearly 90 minutes. The train was captured, together with nearly 1,000 prisoners.
Worse, Hadik’s own train, guarded by Gemmingen, was stampeded in an unexplainable panic, while Colonel Franz Lanjus, leading some 2,000 Croats and toting part of Laudon’s supply train along, fell in with the retreating throng to Weissegk. Count Rudolph Pálffy’s men joined up to help shield the vulnerable train from the enemy. But even Pálffy was powerless to do anything about a panic which seized the men, causing some to flee while others apparently ransacked the very train they were supposed to be escorting to safety. In the end, the whole fiasco was a disaster for the Austrians. The losses amounted to about 500 wheeled transport, almost 1,500 men, and invaluable stores. Laudon’s supply train was forfeited, and Solitkov could not be happy at this revelation. Hadik withdrew to Spremberg, while Laudon finally reached the Oder round about Tzchetchnow on August 3, none the worse for wear except for the non-existent supply train.
Frederick had gained a march on the enemy. More importantly, the bluecoats learned that Hadik and his force alone, which did not include Laudon, was at hand. Scouts reported Laudon had arrived outside of Frankfurt on August 3. The king had failed to prevent this rendezvous. He now realized that he would have to go face the combined armies to save an allied conquest of the heart of his country. As for Hadik, Finck would have to see that he was covered, while Prince Henry was really occupied with Daun and his big main Austrian army. In effect, the Prussians were prepared to leave almost the whole of Saxony and most of Silesia unprotected to strengthen the barrier to the Russians and Laudon.