The Prussian Campaign of 1762 in Saxony I

In the middle of January 1762, Prince Henry experienced a bout of illness, which caused him to enquire whether he could be replaced, at least temporarily, by another officer, preferably Seydlitz or General Forcade, but the king advised that his brother should be able to recover in time to assume field command in the spring, thus rendering a successor in that event unnecessary. In the end, Henry was confined to his bed at his headquarters for more than a month’s time, but when the new campaign opened, he was indeed able to exercise field command in Saxony. The fact was, the ailing prince had been given charge in Saxony, more or less to hold it, while his royal brother sought to conclude the war in Silesia all while recovering a secure hold on the province. Prince Henry was quick to chastise his sibling for Frederick’s plan to take away Platen’s corps for his own use at the start of the new campaign, although the king had promised him he would have control of Eugene of Württemberg’s men as a consolation.

Prince Henry had just cause for his complaint. The enemy opposed to him and his men (some 25,000 strong) consisted of some 19,000 Imperialist troops, along with about 44,500 Austrians, all under the overall command of Serbelloni, from March 29, 1762. Daun’s appointment of command of the Austrian forces in Silesia, and the retention of both Laudon and Lacy for the movements of the army in the province of Silesia, had left a vacuum for Saxony. It was clear as it could be in 1762 that the war would be finally won or irrevocably lost in Silesia. Saxony was very much of a side theater by this point. Moreover, both sides knew it. The upshot was, Daun was not going to send one of his “good” commanders to Saxony, feuding with each other or not. Vis-a-vis, Laudon and Lacy. As a result, Serbelloni it would be. Serbelloni’s men were deployed over the winter of 1761–1762 entirely within the province of Saxony, but Prince Henry’s goal from the beginning of the campaign was to try to reclaim the territory around Döebeln, the very same position that Daun had been able to wrestle from him late in the campaign of 1761. General Luzinsky was occupying Pegau, while other Allied forces of General Kleefeld were deployed all the way to Zeitz.

Over on the Prussian side, the overall situation was hardly better. One of Prince Henry’s pet peeves involved the treatment of the Saxons and of their homeland. He wanted this to be as humane as was possible under the circumstances. More gifted with a sense of fair play than his older brother, probably because the latter wore the crown and thus had to be less egalitarian, the prince would much rather work in conjunction with the Saxons than against them. In effect, Henry had rather more sympathy with the occupied province than his sibling, not the least because the king’s last appreciable memory of Saxony was in the wake of the terrible Battle of Torgau in 1760. Not that Prince Henry was entirely free of difficulties in this respect either.

Among the seemingly myriads of difficulties for Prince Henry, one involved the “Free Corps.” These often despised units had really been formed to extract as much gain as they could from their environment. They existed much more for themselves, in the narrow sense, than for any measure of military gain or renown they could achieve in the broader sense. Prince Henry made no secret of the fact he did not like these units, and had scant use for them as a general rule. In a similar situation, the prince also had scant use for Frederick’s new favorite, the thoroughly odious Major von Anhalt. This was in spite of his reluctance to admit open resentment over the new aide’s rise. Still, Henry seems to have made a concerted effort to restrict his dealings with this particular individual to as few as possible, and, in fact, during the 1762 campaign, Henry had arranged for the major to be whisked away to Leipzig as soon as was possible in one of their few dealings.

The occasion of this particular exchange was in Anhalt being dispatched by the king as a sort of ad hoc administrator of the territory occupied by the prince’s army in Saxony.

This latest development had been prompted by the rather usual desire of the Prussian monarch to pick Saxony as clean as was possible of its resources, financial and otherwise. It was patently obvious by this stage of the war that Prince Henry had neither the desire, nor the actual intention, of doing so. Frederick had to be cognizant of that fact. Thus the sending forth of the detested Anhalt to do what Prince Henry would not. Interestingly, one of the many men who would run afoul of Anhalt in his duties was the famous Baron Friedrich von Steuben. Steuben had been a staff officer previous to this and had spent some time earlier in the war with the Free Battalion Mayr. Later, after the end of the war, Steuben would make his way, by and by, to America, where he was recommended, through the auspices of the American patriot Benjamin Franklin no less, as a Prussian Lt-General under Frederick the Great, which, of course, he had never been. It was a lie that Steuben himself actively promoted. Still, ‘General’ Steuben would be instrumental, as it worked out, in helping reform the American Continental Army under George Washington in the American Revolution, utilizing the Prussian close order drill, among other things, along the way. This effort would play no small rôle in the ultimate American victory in the war over the British George III. The very same George III who had taken the throne in the twilight of the Seven Years’ War.

Meanwhile, back to the events in Saxony in 1762. It was an Austrian move opposite to him that first caused Henry to go over to the offensive in the first place. The enemy were fearful of possible Russian intrusion into their homeland, as we have observed, and so transferred some troop formations from the Saxon front to stiffen the Austrian position in Silesia to confront the Prussians and the Russians. This weakened the Austro-Imperialist position in Saxony, however, and thus allowed Henry the opportunity to strike.

The enemy opposed to Prince Henry had been in motion in the meanwhile. Stolberg’s forward elements occupied Penig and Chemnitz in early May, while Prince Henry occupied the region all the way up to Oschatz (May 5), looking for signs of the enemy close-by. The Allied left flank, led by Major-General Johann Franz von Zedtwitz, was composed of about 4,000 men in all. Zedtwitz neglected, however, the most basic of defensive measures, including leaving unmanned guard posts open during daylight hours. Such carelessness would not go unpunished.

In the event, Henry was resolved to carry out his enterprise here, if at all possible. Late on May 11, the Prussians moved in preparing to strike at the Allies in the area. An Austrian guard post over by Nieder-Striegis was overrun by Prince Henry’s men during the twilight hours, and, before 0700 hours next day, May 12, the main bluecoat forces, summarily divided into four separate columns for the occasion, swept forward against the unsuspecting foe over by Döebeln.8 General Kanitz and his men pushed on to Gadewitz, while Seydlitz, with a second column (this one composed of some 37 squadrons of fine Prussian cavalry and some infantry), struck from near Mockritz leaning over at Zschornewitz. Kleist on the far left rolled forward between Knobelsdorf and Nauβlitz. Finally, the Prussians of General Alt-Stutterheim made their way at Stormitz. All but Kleist were scheduled to make a frontal charge against the Allies, but before the others could even approach, the advanced guard of Kleist’s men crossed the Mulde River suddenly and bagged an entire battalion of Austrians as prisoners (approximately 43 officers and 1,536 rank-and-file). The particulars follow.

The beginning of the fray is debatable. Apparently in the confusion of the moment, Kleist’s gunners accidently fired off a shot. This precipitated the attack. Seydlitz felt this action was intentional, and apparently with the avowed aim of seeking glory for Kleist. Of course, this charge was vehemently denied. Nevertheless, Döebeln turned out to be a pleasant interlude for the bluecoats. Moreover, what a surprise when one of the captives turned out to be General Zedtwitz himself, captured over near Littdorf while leading his cavalry in a hopeless counterattack to stem the enemy’s progress. A short, but involved effort followed, compelling the Allies to retreat, leaving behind nearly 50 percent of their men as prisoners, along with five pieces of artillery. The survivors scurried to safety at and about Dippoldiswalde. Bluecoat casualties on this occasion amounted to some 60 men.

One of the backlashes of this fight was the feud that grew out of the altercation between the persons of Generals Kleist and Seydlitz. Both men resented the actions of the other on this occasion. Perhaps both men, seeing the end of hostilities coming and wanting more opportunities for glory, were a tad shortsighted on this occasion. In the final analysis, the Prussian effort was indeed a success, but one which did not lend itself to an easy follow up by the victors, especially as Prince Henry’s army lacked any means at all to secure reinforcements.

Serbelloni, for his part, was visibly shaken by the reverse. The Allies held posts west of the Elbe, which included a number constituting a stranglehold on the Saxon capital; they were thus able to hold interior lines from Dresden extending over towards Dippoldiswalde.

Meanwhile, this stroke allowed Prince Henry to separate the Austrians and Imperialists, and prevented their reuniting for a time. But Henry did not stop there. Not satisfied with the status quo, Prince Henry now strove to eliminate the Austrian left flank forces altogether. On May 15, Freiberg fell to him, and two days later, Prussian troopers seized the rises near Pretzschendorf (giving Prussian artillery enough range to hammer the enemy’s post at Dippoldiswalde). From Freiberg, Henry sent off a light detachment of 500 hard-riding cavalry under Lt. Friedrich Wilhelm von Roeder through Öderan to check out the Imperialists.

Henry began to run short of men for this new offensive, as he had been forced to make heavy detachments to contain the Imperialists of Prince Stolberg to the west of Chemnitz in order to protect his rear while the whitecoats were being squeezed out of Freiberg. All Stolberg wanted at this stage was to fall back on Zwickau. By now Serbelloni (in charge of the disunited armies) was pleading for reinforcements from Daun over in Silesia, all in vain. The reverse was occurring.

Reports had been filtering in to Prussian headquarters for some time now that the Austrians were either in the process of, or were about to, transfer some of their formations from the Saxon theater of war to boost their troop total in Silesia in order to fulfill their campaign requirements thererabouts. The consequences for the Allies could have been severe. But Prince Henry’s request for new troops also fell on deaf ears, snubbed by the king outright; the latter taking a hard line here because he felt the decisive actions were yet to be in Silesia (which, of course, they were). Now Prince Henry, for his part, did feel that he could hold his present line, while slowly building up strength for yet another offensive. At this stage, though, one of Henry’s officers, Colonel Christian Friedrich von Bandemer, tried to get hold of Chemnitz. Stolberg was not inclined to leave, and his force on the spot, led by General Luzinsky, drove the surprised bluecoats back all the way to Öderan with heavy losses in men and ordnance (including some 500 men and 15 officers), all of this due to a roving Imperialist force (May 21).

The particulars follow. Bandemer had pressed towards the vicinity of Chemnitz on May 19. Luzinsky’s vanguard, led by General Kleefeld, rolled through Lichtenstein, while Vecsey moved with a couple of Austrian hussar regiments through Glauchau. The bluecoats thereabouts were obviously overextended, and were thus at the disadvantage in any contest of arms, even with the generally inferior Imperialists as foes. About 0300 hours, on May 21, Luzinsky struck, with Kleefeld and Vecsey alike providing the impetus to push the foe back. Bandemer had 300 men (from Lehwaldt’s 14th Infantry) with one cannon placed in Chemnitz to provide a buffer against the Imperials. Luzinsky’s charge against Chemnitz was developed at this point in three distinct columns, with the Austrian hussar regiments overthrowing Major-General Johann Ernst von Schmettau’s 4th Prussian Cuirassier Regiment, losing “ten officers and 317 men in its advance post at Chemnitz.” The Prussians were forced, after a brief tussle, to recoil, leaving behind some 800 men and seven guns (four 12-pounders, two light 6-pounders, and one 7-pounder howitzer) in the hands of the Imperialists. Imperial losses amounted to one officer and 35 men.

This was both one of the best (and, sadly for them, the very last) largely Imperialist successes of the whole war, and the benefit of laudatory congratulations were promptly bestowed upon Serbelloni by Vienna, although the commander had been no where near the field of action. It is worth noting, for much of the campaign, Serbelloni did his best to run his command almost by proxy from Dresden, an unworkable situation any way one looked at it. The biggest problem was in the strung out amount of time that Serbelloni required to get things done. What with messages coming and going from Dresden and all. There was a nearly fatal flaw. Unfortunately, with an enemy of the caliber of Prince Henry, the Allies needed to strike while the iron was hot. Additionally, Stolberg, lacking direct instructions, unaccountably failed to follow up his success, and Henry, taking advantage of the enemy’s reluctance to deploy troops, simply sent new troops under “Green” Kleist and Seydlitz to the scene. It was likely that at least part of the Allied reasons for not promptly following up their victory had to do with the Imperialist lack of reliable light forces, while the Austrians had just culled their light troops due to the aforementioned budget cuts. The effort to regain light formations in the Austrian service was underway, of course, but would not bear fruit for a while yet. The upshot was, Stolberg was left in an exposed, very vulnerable condition. Even worse, there was very little he could do about it.

Under the circumstances, it was Stolberg’s turn to retreat; he abandoned Chemnitz and fell back forthwith on Baireuth. The incident had produced reprecussions over in the Prussian camp. Bandemer had been relieved and Kanitz sent to take his place. Coming along for the journey, so to speak, was Major von Anhalt, sent forth to join Kanitz’ command under the guise of an adviser. The situation was apparently under control, although Henry wrote to Frederick (from Pretzchendorf) on May 20 that he had less than 30,000 men with him now. Moreover, the enemy were not going into hibernation. Colonel Török rudely beat up a Prussian force, including three full squadrons of Prussian cavalry and some 300 infantry, over by Freiberg (May 26). The bluecoats fled, leaving a large baggage train and 80 prisoners in Török’s hands. After a week or so of general inactivity, Austrian troops, under General Kleefeld, counterattacked under cover of night (May 31–June 1), crashing into Colonel Dingelstedt’s command, forcing the outnumbered bluecoats back from Dippoldiswalde’s outskirts on to Waldheim, even taking some 189 prisoners in the process. Kleefeld had 46 casaulties. However, the effort had only limited success elsewhere. Prince Henry was thus enabled to hold up his foe’s designs.

He now received reinforcements, although not from Silesia at all. The withdrawal of the Swedes from the north had released troops for use elsewhere; part of this force—Colonel Belling’s cadre of excellent troops—had made its way, by and by, down to strengthen Prince Henry’s forces in Saxony. Unfortunately, Austrian reinforcements also began to arrive, but Daun had no intention of diverting large numbers of troops to the Saxon theater at this stage when Cherneyshev’s Russian force was known to be nearing Silesia. Henry did maintain heavy cavalry patrols operating around his right to keep the enemy on that side at bay, and to prevent the Austrians and Imperialists from linking up. Kleist’s and Seydlitz’ troopers often ranged into northwest Bohemia in isolated raiding parties to keep the enemy as much off balance as possible. This strategy, although effective, wore heavily on the cavalry horses (to complicate matters in this respect, Frederick refused to supply Henry with additional mounts, as the king wished to husband them for the high-priority Silesian campaign). Because of this factor, as well as the increasing numbers of troops opposed to him under Marshal Daun, Prince Henry became reluctant to press the cavalry horses more than necessary.

Moreover, requests from the prince directed to the person of the king were met by equally terse replies from Frederick to the effect he was already deeply indebted to some horse dealers in Berlin and vicinity and that Henry and his men, after all, must learn to subsist on less. Over on the Allied side, meanwhile, Stampatch came forward in late June with 15,000 more men to stiffen Serbelloni, giving him more than 60,000 troops. As a result of this new strength of the foe, Prince Henry was unable to mount a major offensive for much of this period.

That soon changed. In the end of June, Seydlitz and Belling were dispatched to shove the Imperialists further westward. Stolberg then fell back before them, and Seydlitz obviously lacked the speed, due to his composite cavalry-infantry force, to catch up. The bluecoats reached Zwickau, and there Stolberg tried to turn the tables upon his tormentors. Prince Henry discerned at once what he was up to, and Kleist’s hussars drove off the enemy. Stolberg was thereby foiled.

But Stolberg was not the only Allied commander in motion. Serbelloni had tried to take advantage of the absence of Seydlitz and Kleist by attacking the Prussian lines at his front in two geographic places: Wilsdruf and Frauenstein. General Hülsen held the latter, while Wilsdruf’s defenders were bolstered by Henry himself. Defenders at both spots, under these circumstances, repelled Serbelloni’s blows. Nothing much further happened until mid–July, when Stolberg made an attempt to link up with Serbelloni just south of Dresden, but Seydlitz and Belling smashed his left and rear. Almost as a postscript, “Green” Kleist, who was returning from Bohemia after a raid, rolled up the right.

This was enough! Stolberg withdrew, his army now in pieces. He made his way to Nuremberg and did not bother Henry again for quite a while. Prince Henry was interested in retaking Dresden, which might have been feasible with more men, but more sensible aspirations prevailed. Under the radar, operations instead assumed a static pose for a time. Again, in late July, Seydlitz and Kleist moved into Bohemia, going after the vital enemy bases at Lobositz and Leitmeritz. Seydlitz was leading a cavalry force of 18 full squadrons, endeavoring all the while to link up with “Green” Kleist. The two bodies of men successfully rendezvoused at Johnsdorf (August 1). The total force the duo could muster was 36 squadrons of horse and six battalions, approximately 8,500 men in all. The mission of this combined force was to go range into Bohemia, creating confusion for the Austrians in their own backyard. There was more to the tale than that.