Combat of Hundheim, 23 July 1866

The combat of Hundheim (23 July 1866) was a Prussian victory over German Federal troops that began to disrupt an over-ambitious plan for a counterattack aimed at expelling the Prussians from Frankfurt (Austro-Prussian War of 1866).

Battles of the Austro-Prussian War 1866: German Front
Battles of the
Austro-Prussian War 1866
German Front

At the start of the war the Prussians had faced three opponents in western Germany - the Hanoverians in the north, the 8th Federal Corp (Crown Prince Alexander of Hesse) around Frankfurt and the Bavarian Army (Prince Charles of Bavaria) at Bamberg. The Prussians allocated three divisions to this campaign, forming them into the Army of the Main (General Falckenstein). While the Bavarians and the 8th Corps tried to decide what to do, the Prussians concentrated against the Hanoverians, who were forced to surrender on 29 June 1866.

This meant that the Federal and Bavarian plan to unite at Hersfeld, south of Cassel, was now dangerously obsolete. The two corps were advancing on opposite sides of the Hohn Rhön Mountains and were thus potentially vulnerable to Prussian attack. Prince Charles wanted to alter the plans so that they would unite to the south-east of the mountains, but Prince Alexander insisted on an advance to the north, and the two commanders agreed to meet at Fulda, north-west of the mountains. This plan was foiled by the rapidly advancing Prussians. On 4 July the Bavarians were defeated around Dermbach, north-east of Fulda. This meant that the two corps could no longer unite in the north, and they began to retreat south. The Bavarians hoped to be able to defend the line of the Saale River, east of the Hohn Rhön, but once again they underestimated the Prussians. On 10 July the Bavarians were defeated at Hammelburg and Kissingen, and were forced to retreat from the Saale.

On 11 July Falckenstein was ordered to turn west to occupy Frankfurt and the area north of the River Main, so that it would be in Prussian hands at the end of the war. He advanced across the Spessart, an area of low wooded mountains south of the Hohn Rhön, defeating a Federal advance guard at Laufach on 13 July. By this point Prince Alexander had decided to abandon Frankfurt and move south-east to try and join up with the Bavarians, but on 14 July the Prussians captured Aschaffenburg on the Main, blocking his original route. Prince Alexander was forced to use a route that started further west.

At the end of 14 July the 8th Corps was spread out across the countryside south and south-east of Frankfurt. Prince Alexander believed that the entire Prussian army must have been close by or they wouldn't have attacked Aschaffenburg. On 15 July his corps began to move south, and by the end of 16 July it was approaching Miltenberg. This was a key location where the Main turned north-west to flow towards Frankfurt, after flowing west along the southern edge of the Spessart. The 8th Corps rested on 17 July and then began to move east, reaching a new position on the River Tauber, south of the Main, by the end of 22 July.

These movements finally meant that the 8th Corps and Bavarians were within touching distance. Prince Charles knew that his combined force still outnumbered the Prussians, and he was determined to go onto the offensive. Once again Prince Alexander spoilt Prince Charles's plan. The best idea would have been for the Bavarians to move west to join the 8th Corps and for the united army to move back along the Main towards Frankfurt. Prince Alexander insisted that his troop's morale would suffer if they had to retrace their steps, and suggested an alternative plan. The Bavarians would move north-west from Würzburg to Lohr on the Main. The 8th Corps would move north from its position south of the Main. The two forces would them advance west across the Spessart and hit the Prussians either around Frankfurt, or on the march east.

Once again this plan failed to take the Prussians into account. The Allies didn't think that the Prussians would advance along the line of the River Main, but this was exactly what they did. On 16 July Falckenstein occupied Frankfurt, but soon afterwards he was replaced by Manteuffel. Manteuffel visited Frankfurt on 20 July, and then ordered his army back into movement. Goeben's Division was sent south to Darmstadt, then east to Dieberg. Manteuffel's own division, now under General Flies, and Beyer's Division both advanced south-east along the left bank of the Main. By 22 July the Prussians were arranged in a triangle in the area south of Aschaffenburg. Beyer was furthest north, at Wallstadt. Goeben was to the south-west, at König. Flies was at Laudenbach, just to the north of Miltenberg.

In order to cover the planned move north the Baden Division moved to Hundheim, west of the Tauber, and south-west of Wertheim on the Main. This position would allow them to cover the left flank of the corps as it moved north. However Prince Alexander had failed to take into account the possibility that the Prussians would follow him along the Main.

The Baden Division deployed with Laroche's Brigade on the right, around Hundheim (about four miles S/SW of Wertheim, where the Tauber flows into the Main). Nenbronn's Brigade was on the left, at Steinbach, about a mile south of Hundheim. Two companies of riflemen and one squadron of cavalry were posted at Wertheim itself. Later in the day General von Laroche sent the 5th Regiment of Infantry, 2nd Battalion of Grenadiers and an artillery battery to Nassig, north of Hundheim.

Laroche was directly in the path of General Flies's Division. On 23 July Flies was ordered to advance along the Main. His left flank was to follow the river, his right flank was to take Hundheim and his main force was to take Nassig. Flies was with the central column, while the right-hand column was led by the Coburg-Gotha Regiment, under Colonel Fabeck.

The first minor clashes came at Sonderried, west of Nassig, where Flies's main column pushed back some Federal scouts.

The main action involved Colonel Fabeck's detachment. As this approached Hundheim it ran into Baden infantry in one of the woods. The Baden infantry quickly retreated, but it convinced the Colonel that there might be more serious opposition in the area. He sent his 1st Battalion forwards in columns of companies. Most of this area turned out to be empty of the enemy, but on one flank his men ran into a strong Federal force.

This was General Laroche's detachment returning from Nassig, with the Grenadiers in the lead and the 5th Regiment to the rear. The Prussian advance threatened to cut his road to Hundheim, and prevent him rejoining the rest of the 8th Corps. A fight broke out in some woods. The Prussians drove back the Baden infantry and forced them to retreat towards Ernsthof, north-east of Hundheim. The Baden troops were then charged by half a squadron from the Prussian 6th Dragoons. By this point the 1st Battalion, 5th Baden Regiment, had reached the scene, and the Prussians found themselves under fire from several directions. They retreated west back into the woods where the skirmish had begun.

It was now clear to Colonel Fabeck that he was outnumbered, and so he drew up in a defensive position to the north-west of Hundheim. The Baden Brigade ended the day in Hundheim, with detachments on the roads that ran west and north.

The Prussians suffered very minor casualties on the day - only 5 dead and 15 wounded. The Baden Brigade lost 13 dead, 56 wounded and 23 missing, an total of 92 casualties. The Prussians only took one unwounded prisoner.

To the south Goeben's advance guard reached Walldürn, twelve miles to the west of Tauberbischofsheim. Here they ran into a squadron from the Baden 'Leib' Dragoon Regiment, and a skirmish broke out. The Prussians attacked with two squadrons of Hussars, and forced the Baden dragoons to retreat. Here the Baden cavalry lost 2 dead and 31 wounded or missing.

Prince Alexander decided to concentrate on the line of the River Tauber, although it isn't clear if he intended to make a major effort to hold the river line, or just delay the Prussians while he prepared to move across the Main somewhere to the east. Whatever his original plan was, it had to be abandoned after the Prussians defeated his troops on the Tauber (battles of Tauberbischofsheim and Werbach, 24 July 1866). In the aftermath of these defeats the 8th Corps retreated east towards Würzburg. The Bavarians had now abandoned their march towards Lohr, and were heading south to come to their allies' assistance. All this achieved was to expose both forces to defeat on the same day. On 25 July the Bavarians were defeated by Beyer at Helmstadt, while the 8th Corps was defeated by Goeben at Gerchsheim. By the end of the day the 8th Corps was in full retreat towards Würzburg, and relative safely across the Main. The Bavarians stayed in the field, only to suffer another defeat at Rossbrun. The fighting now began to fade away. On 27 July there was an artillery duel between the Prussians and the guns of the fortress of Marienberg, but soon afterwards news arrived that an official truce was to begin on 2 August. The two commanders put a temporary ceasefire in place on the Main front. On 1 August Manteuffel threatened to end this unless the Bavarians surrendered Würzburg, and on 2 August, just before the start of the official truce, the city was surrendered to the Prussians.

The Road to Königgrätz: Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro-Prussian War 1866, Quintin Barry . Looks at the events of the war that saw Prussia become the dominant power in northern Germany, a key step on the road to German unification. Focuses on the military campaigns, the role of von Moltke in the war, the Austrian reaction and the clashes between the Prussian military and political establishments. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 October 2015), Combat of Hundheim, 23 July 1866 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/combat_hundheim.html

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