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Battle of Skalitz, 28 June 1866

Battle of Skalitz, 28 June 1866

Battle of Skalitz, 28 June 1866

The battle of Skalitz (28 June 1866) was the second of two victories in two days won by the Prussian V Corps, and helped secure the Prussian position in Bohemia (Austria-Prussian War of 1866)

The Prussians invaded Bohemia in two main bodies. In the west the Army of the Elbe and Prussian 1st Army attacked from Saxony towards the River Iser. In the east Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia had the more difficult task of crossing the mountains between Silesia and Bohemia and moving west to meet up with the western armies. His task was more dangerous than Von Moltke, chief of the Prussian General Staff, had realised, as the Austrians decided to concentrate their army around Josephstadt on the Elbe, close to the passes that the Crown Prince would have to use.

The Austrians failed to defend the mountain barrier around Bohemia. The Crown Prince's army advanced across the mountains in three columns. The left hand column, closest to the Austrian concentration, was led by General Steinmetz's V Corps. On 26 June his leading troops reached Nachod, on the Austrian side of the mountains, without running into any serious opposition. On 27 June the Austrians attempted to retake some of the lost ground, but General Ramming's 6th Corps suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of V Corps and was forced to retreat west to Skalitz.

Ramming was so concerned about the state of his corps that he asked to be relieved by the 8th Corps (Archduke Leopold). General Benedek, the Austrian commander-in-chief in Bohemia, agreed to the switch, and 8th Corps took up a new defensive position around Skalitz.

At around 10.30am Field Marshal Benedek visited Skalitz, where he was greeted enthusiastically, in the belief that he was about to order an offensive. Instead he informed the Archduke that he was still planning to concentrate against the western Prussian armies on the Iser. The Archduke was thus to avoid any serious fighting. Benedek decided that the Prussians were unlikely to attack Skalitz, and ordered the Archduke to retreat if the Prussians had attacked in force by 2pm.

The battle was fought in the area to the east and north-east of Skalitz. The town sits on the south bank of the River Aupa, which flows south into the town, and south-west away from it. A main road ran west from Nachod to Skalitz. A railway that curved around from the north-east to the south-west in this area ran east-west just to the north for the road in the stretch nearest to Skalitz, turning away to the south just east of the town. The road and railway were flanked by woods to the north and south, making it a poor area for cavalry.

On the Prussian side General Steinmetz expected to be supported by the 2nd Guard's Division, but this unit had to move north after the Prussian defeat at Trautenau on the previous day. Steinmetz didn’t know this, and so sent a detachment north to find the guards. His advance guard, under Colonel von Voights-Rhetz, was sent towards Starkoc, north of the railway, a movement that may have encouraged Benedek's belief that the Prussians intended to move away to the north-west. The advance guard was followed by Löwenfeldt's 9th Division. Finally the main Prussian body, made up of Kirchback's 10th Division, moved out at 8am.

The Austrians were lined up with Schindlöcker's Heavy Cavalry Brigade to the north. Fragnern's Brigade was on some higher ground north of Skalitz. Schulz's Brigade was on the Austrian right, south of Skalitz. Kreyssern's Brigade was in the centre, on the main road through the town.

Steinmetz decided to occupy the woods north of the railway and east of Skalitz. The leading brigade of Löwenfeldt's division was ordered to attack the woods from the north-east. The initial attack was carried out by the 37th and 58th Prussian Regiments. The Austrian force in the woods was pushed back, but the Archduke refused to obey his orders to avoid a major battle and launched a series of counterattacks. First Kreyssern's Brigade attacked along the road south of the railway. General Kreyssern was killed during the attack, which failed.

The Prussians were then reinforced by the 46th and 52nd Regiments from the 10th Division. These troops attacked the Austrian left and reinforced the hard-pressed Prussian troops in the centre. The Austrians responded with another attack, this time by Schulz's Brigade, but once again this attack was repulsed.

The Prussian offensive now began to push the Austrians out of the town. The 47th Regiment attacked the town from the east, and became engaged in some heavy fighting within the town, in particular around the strongly built railway station. General Fragnern was killed during this part of the battle. The Prussians were also able to cross the River Aupa north of the town, and attacked the Austrian positions west of the river from the north and the east. The Austrians were now forced into a full scale retreat, with the defeated survivors from the 6th and 8th Corps moving west across the Elbe, while the untested 4th Corps occupied Königinhof on the Elbe and Schweinschadel, a little to the east.

Further north the Austrians suffered another defeat at Soor/ Burkersdorf, where the victorious troops from Trautenau were defeated by the Prussian Guards Corps. The two victories on 28 June helped secure the Prussian position west of the mountains. On the following day they fought two more engagements. The Guards Corps captured Königinhof, and with it a crossing point over the Elbe, while V Corps defeated the rest of the Austrian 4th Corps at Schweinschadel.

The Prussians lost 1,365 killed, wounded and missing at the battle, made up of 62 officers and 1,290 men killed and wounded and 13 missing.

The Austrians lost 184 officers and 3,106 men killed or wounded and 21 officers and 2,266 men prisoners. Fragnern's brigade lost 824 dead and 620 wounded, and Kreyssern's brigade 352 dead and 639 wounded.


The largest and most one–sided battle of the nineteenth century? Well, the first part of the statement is correct. There were more troops on the field of Königgrätz than any other battle, prior to it or after it until the battle of Mukden (20 th February–10 th March 1905). Even the greatest battle of the century thus far, Leipzig in 1813, also known as the Battle of Nations, in which, on the final day of the battle the troops on both sides numbered, after losses sustained during the previous days fighting, some 420,000 men engaged, still fell short of the 430,000 plus who stood on the field of Königgrätz.

As far as the one–sidedness of the conflict is concerned, and not just the battle itself, but the whole campaign, when the casualties on both sides are compared, plus the rapidity of the Austrian collapse within seven weeks, make it appear that they were on a hiding to nothing in the first place. However, their archaic tactics and much criticised inferior infantry armament should not be taken as the sole reasons for their defeat. Indeed the early stages of the campaign, had the Austrian high command been led by generals better qualified and more offensively minded, could have changed the whole course of the war.

The military and political arrangement of both Austria and Prussia leading up to the outbreak of hostilities has been dealt with in much detail not only by Professor Gordon A.Craig in his excellent account of the campaign and battle, The Battle of Königgrätz published in 1964, but also at great length in two more recent accounts of the conflict-Quintin Barry’s work, The Road to Königgrätz. Helmuth von Moltke and the Austro-Prussian War 1866 (published in 2010) and Geoffrey Wawro’s, The Austro-Prussian War. Austria’s War with Prussia and Italy in 1866 (published in 1996). Therefore I have only given a brief outline of events leading up to the main battle of the campaign, which I will endeavour to explain in some depth by using material not only from the above mentioned books and other sources, but also by utilising much new information gathered while visiting the site earlier this year. Dr Bob’s panoramas taken from over twenty locations around the site will, I feel, aid the reader immensely when trying to imagine what took place during this epic battle. A further trip to the Czech Republic is proposed for 2015 in order to visit the sites of other engagements that occurred prior to Königgrätz thereafter it is hoped that we will be able to compile a complete account, in words and pictures, of the events that took place in Bohemia in 1866.

Why not help support this site by purchasing a printed copy of this article. Paperback, 182 pages.

Still from the motion picture SVIB. Moving Pictures CZ 2012.

Course of war

Border crossing

The Prussian 2nd Army advanced in three army columns, partly from the County of Glatz , via Braunau, as well as on Landeshuter Straße to Liebau. As the vanguard of the 2nd Army, the V Corps crossed the Metau, the border river between the County of Glatz and Bohemia, on the evening of June 26, 1866 . On the route from Nachod to Trautenau , the Prussian I. Army Corps and the Guard Corps in Bohemia, the VI. Army Corps was still in reserve in the Glatzer area and followed belatedly. At Schlaney , the advance guard of the 9th Division crossed the Silesian border. The VI. Corps was on June 26, 1866 as a reserve in the Glatz area behind the V Army Corps and finally followed over the border. The Beloves border crossing was insufficiently secured by the Austrians and quickly abandoned. The onward march of the V Corps took place over the narrow passes of the Mettau to Nachod, the Crown Prince went from Braunau to the headquarters of the V Corps.

Battle of Trautenau and Nachod

The Prussian Corps Bonin was repulsed on June 27, 1866 in the Battle of Trautenau by the Austrian X. Army Corps under FML Ludwig von Gablenz . The 1st Corps had to go back to Goldenöls, then the Prussian Guard Corps, advancing over Eypel, took over the vanguard and defeated parts of the Austrian IV Corps at Soor and Burkersdorf. General von Bonin's troops lost their role as the vanguard of the Prussian 2nd Army and were replaced by the Prussian Guard Corps under Prince August von Württemberg . On June 27, the left wing of the Crown Prince's army, the V Corps of General Steinmetz, the Austrian VI. Corps thrown under FML ramming at Nachod. The timely intervention of the 10th Division under Lieutenant General von Kirchbach secured the Prussian victory, the important height of Wysokov was conquered by the Prussians. FML Gablenz withdrew his X. Corps, which had been exhausted near Trautenau, to Thrush and asked FZM Benedek for reinforcements. The Austrians tried to direct the advance of the Prussian Guard by concentrated artillery fire from the north and east on Staudenz and hold it there. He wanted to give units of the approaching IV Corps under FML Tassilo Festetics the opportunity to flank the guard from the south. On June 28, the battle between Soor and Burkersdorf followed. The Prussian 1st Guard Division under the leadership of Lieutenant General Hiller von Gärtringen successfully pushed back the Austrian defenders at Staudenz. At the same time, further north, the 2nd Guards Division under General von Plonski was able to cut off the Austrian Brigade Grivicic from the rest of the X. Corps and almost completely wipe it out in the battle near Burkersdorf .

Battle of Skalitz, advance to the Elbe

On the morning of June 28th, General von Mutius, whose bulk reached Alt-Hayde in the course of the day, received the order with his VI. Corps to advance quickly via Nachod in order to strengthen the army's left flank. Meanwhile, the Prussian V Corps defeated the Austrian VIII Corps under Archduke Leopold in the battle of Skalitz . After the unsuccessful attacks by the Austrians, the 10th Division had managed to break into the opposing center, while the 9th Division had taken the heights in front of the Aupa. As the V Corps marched on to Gradlitz on June 29, the battle at Schweinskull followed . During the advance of the V Corps, an artillery duel with Austrian batteries developed as they approached Pig Skulls. Only in order to delay the Prussian advance did parts of the Austrian IV Corps fight under FML Festetics . The attacks of the Prussians broke into the village of Schweinschädel, the rapid fire of their breech loaders brought the Austrians who defended a walled dairy for a long time, considerable losses. The persecution continued on Gradlitz. Ordered on July 2nd to observe Josephsstadt, the V Corps lost its leadership role to the VI. Corps and could therefore no longer intervene at Königgrätz on July 3 . Following Moltke's orders, the Guard Corps had defeated the enemy at Burkersdorf and Alt-Rognitz and in the following days established contact with the I Army Corps and the V Army Corps. The 2nd Army began crossing the Elbe on July 1st, but broke it off when the march security had to determine the enemy had withdrawn. The army remained on the Canaletto after almost to the street Miletin- the First Corps Gitschin advanced and with the vanguard of the Guard Corps, the Elbe near Königinhof had passed. General Moltke expected the unification of the entire Prussian 2nd Army on the Elbe at Königinhof, which was occupied by the 1st Guard Division.

Battle of the Little Bighorn

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Battle of the Little Bighorn, also called Custer’s Last Stand, (June 25, 1876), battle at the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory, U.S., between federal troops led by Lieut. Col. George A. Custer and Northern Plains Indians (Lakota [Teton or Western Sioux] and Northern Cheyenne) led by Sitting Bull. Custer and all the men under his immediate command were slain. There were about 50 known deaths among Sitting Bull’s followers.

Where was the Battle of the Little Bighorn fought?

The Battle of the Little Bighorn was fought at the Little Bighorn River in southern Montana Territory, U.S.

Why did the Battle of the Little Bighorn happen?

The Battle of the Little Bighorn happened because the Second Treaty of Fort Laramie, in which the U.S. government guaranteed to the Lakota and Dakota (Yankton) as well as the Arapaho exclusive possession of the Dakota Territory west of the Missouri River, had been broken.

Why is the Battle of the Little Bighorn significant?

The Battle of the Little Bighorn is significant because it proved to be the height of Native American power during the 19th century. It was also the worst U.S. Army defeat during the Plains Wars.

Who fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn?

The Battle of the Little Bighorn was fought between U.S. federal troops, led by George Armstrong Custer, and Lakota and Northern Cheyenne warriors, led by Sitting Bull.

How many people died in the Battle of the Little Bighorn?

All 210 U.S. soldiers who followed George Armstrong Custer into the Battle of the Little Bighorn were killed Custer also died. There were about 50 known deaths among Sitting Bull’s followers.

Events leading up to the confrontation were typical of the irresolute and confusing policy of the U.S. government toward Native Americans. Although the Second Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868), in effect, had guaranteed to the Lakota and Dakota (Yankton) Sioux as well as the Arapaho Indians exclusive possession of the Dakota territory west of the Missouri River, white miners in search of gold were settling in lands sacred especially to the Lakota. Unwilling to remove the settlers and unable to persuade the Lakota to sell the territory, the U.S. government issued an order to the Indian agencies that all Indians return to the designated reservations by January 31, 1876, or be deemed hostile. The improbability of getting that message to the hunters, coupled with its rejection by many of the Plains Indians, made confrontation inevitable.

In defiance of the government’s threats, bands of Lakota and Northern Cheyenne Indians (along with a smaller number of Arapaho) who had refused to be confined by reservation boundaries came together under the leadership of Sitting Bull, a charismatic Lakota who called for resistance to U.S. expansion. With the arrival of spring 1876 and the start of the hunting seasons, many more Indians left their reservations to join Sitting Bull, whose growing numbers of followers were camped on the Little Bighorn River (a branch of the Bighorn River) in southern Montana Territory at the end of June. Earlier in the spring, many of those Native Americans had congregated to celebrate the annual Sun Dance ceremony, at which Sitting Bull experienced a prophetic vision of soldiers toppling upside down in his camp, which he interpreted as a harbinger of a great victory for his people.

That spring, under the orders of Lieut. Gen. Philip Sheridan, three army columns converged on Lakota country in an attempt to corral the rebellious bands. Moving east, from Fort Ellis (near Bozeman, Montana), was a column led by Col. John Gibbon. From the south and Fort Fetterman in Wyoming Territory came a column under the command of Gen. George Cook. On May 17 Brig. Gen. Alfred H. Terry headed west from Fort Abraham Lincoln in charge of the Dakota Column, the bulk of which constituted Custer’s 7th Cavalry. On June 22 Terry sent Custer and the 7th Cavalry in pursuit of Sitting Bull’s trail, which led into the Little Bighorn Valley. Terry’s plan was for Custer to attack the Lakota and Cheyenne from the south, forcing them toward a smaller force that he intended to deploy farther upstream on the Little Bighorn River. By the morning of June 25, Custer’s scouts had discovered the location of Sitting Bull’s village. Custer intended to move the 7th Cavalry to a position that would allow his force to attack the village at dawn the next day. When some stray Indian warriors sighted a few 7th Cavalrymen, Custer assumed that they would rush to warn their village, causing the residents to scatter.

Custer chose to attack immediately. At noon on June 25, in an attempt to prevent Sitting Bull’s followers from escaping, he split his regiment into three battalions. He sent three companies under the command of Maj. Marcus A. Reno to charge straight into the village, dispatched three companies under Capt. Frederick W. Benteen to the south to cut off the flight of any Indians in that direction, and took five companies under his personal command to attack the village from the north. That tactic proved to be disastrous. In fragmenting his regiment, Custer had left its three main components unable to provide each other support.

As the Battle of the Little Bighorn unfolded, Custer and the 7th Cavalry fell victim to a series of surprises, not the least of which was the number of warriors that they encountered. Army intelligence had estimated Sitting Bull’s force at 800 fighting men in fact, some 2,000 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors took part in the battle. Many of them were armed with superior repeating rifles, and all of them were quick to defend their families. Native American accounts of the battle are especially laudatory of the courageous actions of Crazy Horse, leader of the Oglala band of Lakota. Other Indian leaders displayed equal courage and tactical skill.

Cut off by the Indians, all 210 of the soldiers who had followed Custer toward the northern reaches of the village were killed in a desperate fight that may have lasted nearly two hours and culminated in the defense of high ground beyond the village that became known as “Custer’s Last Stand.” The details of the movements of the components of Custer’s contingent have been much hypothesized. Reconstructions of their actions have been formulated using both the accounts of Native American eyewitnesses and sophisticated analysis of archaeological evidence (cartridge cases, bullets, arrowheads, gun fragments, buttons, human bones, etc.), Ultimately, however, much of the understanding of this most famous portion of the battle is the product of conjecture, and the popular perception of it remains shrouded in myth.

Atop a hill on the other end of the valley, Reno’s battalion, which had been reinforced by Benteen’s contingent, held out against a prolonged assault until the next evening, when the Indians broke off their attack and departed. Only a single badly wounded horse remained from Custer’s annihilated battalion (the victorious Lakota and Cheyenne had captured 80 to 90 of the battalion’s mounts). That horse, Comanche, managed to survive, and for many years it would appear in 7th Cavalry parades, saddled but riderless.

The outcome of the battle, though it proved to be the height of Indian power, so stunned and enraged white Americans that government troops flooded the area, forcing the Indians to surrender. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (1946) and Indian Memorial (2003) commemorate the battle.


Nine militia volunteers from Toronto's Queen's Own Rifles Regiment were killed in the battle, including three student soldiers from a University of Toronto rifle company called out while writing their final exams and who took the brunt of a Fenian charge at Limestone Ridge. While Canadians had not fought a major war in Canada since the War of 1812, the Fenians were all battle-hardened veterans of the American Civil War, many having served in crack Irish brigades.

The "Ridgeway Nine" were Canada's first soldiers killed in action and Ridgeway was the last battle fought in Ontario against a foreign invader, but after the disastrous conclusion the Macdonald government covered-up what happened so thoroughly that most Canadians today have never heard of this battle.

Biography of Carl Bernhardi, M. D.

One of Rock Island’s long established physicians who has achieved an enviable reputation in his profession, and who is held in high personal regard by all who know him, is Doctor Carl Bernhardi.

He was born September 10, 1843, in the City of Koenigsberg, East Prussia, Germany. Here he spent his boyhood, receiving his preliminary education in the schools and colleges of his native city, and finally entered the medical department of the University of Koenigsberg in 1863. He continued his medical course in this university until the Autumn of 1866, when he went to the University of Berlin. From this latter institution he graduated one year later, August 15, 1867.

Previous to his graduation Doctor Bernhardi served as a volunteer surgeon during the war between Prussia and Austria in 1866. He was present at the battles of Nathod and Skalitz, which occurred June 27 and 28 of that year, and also the battle of Koenigraetz, which occurred July 3. He was discharged at the close of the war which terminated September 3, 1866. He remained in Germany until March, 1869, when he came to the United States, going immediately to old friends at St. Louis. While there he learned that there was an opening for a German physician at Rock Island and consequently decided to locate here. He arrived in Rock Island on April 22, 1869, and has ever since been one of this city’s successful physicians and highly respected citizens.

On October 10, 1873, occurred the nuptials of Doctor Bernhardi and Miss Zoe Olshausen, daughter of Dr. J. J. Olshausen, of Davenport, Iowa. Doctor Olshausen had formerly practiced medicine in St. Louis, and in that city Miss Olshausen was born. To Doctor Bernhardi and his wife four children have been born Claire Marie, married October 10, 1898, to Doctor Alfred Schalek, then assistant professor of dermatology at Rush Medical College in Chicago. Doctor Schalek is now professor of dermatology in the medical department of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Doctor and Mrs. Schalek have one daughter, Zoe Carola, about six years of age Anne Ottilie, married June 3, 1903, to H. Woodworth Clum, of Washington, District of Columbia. Mr. Clum has for some time been engaged in newspaper work, and is at present secretary of the board of trade of Trenton, New Jersey. Mr. and Mrs. Clum have two children, Elizabeth Anne, aged three years, and Carl Bernie, aged eight months Doctor Carl Oscar Bernhardi, a sketch of whose life is given elsewhere in this work and Miss Zoe Julie Bernhardi at home.

In politics Doctor Bernhardi has always been a Republican, and is prominently identified with that party locally, for although the many demands of his professional calling left him but little time to devote to active political work, yet he was always ready to assist his party in any manner that lay in his power. He was twice appointed a member of the public library board was elected a member of the board of education for a three years term in the early nineties, and was County Physician for several years.

Doctor Bernhardi is a member of the medical staff of St. Anthony’s Hospital in Rock Island, and an honorary member of the staff of Mercy Hospital at Davenport, Iowa. He has also been a member of the American .Medical Association since 1888, and of the Illinois State Medical Society since 1872. He was the first president of the Rock Island County Medical Society, and is a member of the Iowa and Illinois District Medical Society.

For years Doctor Bernhardi was an active member of the Rock Island Turner Society. He is now an honorary member of that organization. He is ex-president of the former German-English School Society, and a charter member of Germania Lodge, Ancient Order of United Workmen. He is also a charter member of Camp No. 309, Modern Woodmen of America, and of Home Tribunal, No. 1, Fraternal Tribunes. He is a member of the Masonic fraternity, having passed through the Blue Lodge, Chapter and Commandery, and is a member of Kaaba Temple of the Order of the Mystic Shrine at Davenport, Iowa. He also belongs to the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

So widely known is Doctor Bernhardi that it seems indeed unnecessary to even attempt a delineation of the character of the man. The collective opinion of those to whom he has ministered in sickness and who know his kind and gentle ways in the sick room, and his untiring efforts to alleviate suffering and to combat. disease, is the best tribute that can be paid him.


The Prussian 1st Army under Friedrich Karl pursued the Austrians to Brno the 2nd Army under the Crown Prince on Olmütz and the Elbarmee followed the Austrians via Iglau to Znaim . The Prussians reached the Danube area in mid-July and proceeded without major resistance to the Stockerau and Gänserndorf line in the northern apron of Vienna. On July 26, 1866, the preliminary peace of Nikolsburg was concluded, which was followed by the final peace treaty in Prague on August 23.

The battle also had far-reaching political consequences for the Habsburg Empire. Despite the successful battles at Custoza (June 24th) and Lissa (July 20th) against the Italians who had entered the war on the Prussian side, Emperor Franz Joseph saw himself at peace after the devastating defeat at Königgrätz to surrender and cede Veneto to Italy forced by Vienna . As a result of the Austrian defeat, the previous German Confederation dissolved Prussia annexed Schleswig-Holstein , Hanover , Kurhessen , Nassau and the Free City of Frankfurt and created the North German Confederation . Domestically, too, Emperor Franz Joseph came under strong pressure from the efforts of his peoples for autonomy. The Austrian monarchy was very weak in foreign policy, on December 21, 1867 the settlement with Hungary and the December constitution had to be approved in the Reichsrat.

The importance of the battle was not hidden from foreign contemporaries either. In Paris during the Second Empire it was feared that a powerful, united neighbor under Prussian supremacy was forming on the eastern border. In order to prevent Prussia from further unifying German states, the battle cry Revanche pour Sadowa! (" Revenge for Sadowa! "). The aim was to “nip in the bud” the new neighbor. The Chassepot rifle was introduced as one of the armaments measures in 1866 , although it was clear in Paris that a rifle with a metal cartridge would have been desirable because the Chassepot system had various disadvantages . However, the Chassepot rifle was available quickly and at a comparatively low price.

After the news of the outcome of the battle had been brought to him, the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph is said to have scolded his general in a very un-imperial way: “Benedek, the idiot!”. Benedek was removed from his office, replaced by Archduke Albrecht of Austria-Teschen and brought before a court martial. However, the proceedings were discontinued under imperial pressure and Benedek ordered to remain silent about the battle for the rest of his life, which he adhered to.

Today's historians are of the opinion that Benedek made a few mishaps, but the defeat was due to Hungarian officers who, contrary to Benedek's orders, launched a counterattack in the Swiepwald, tearing the Austrian front apart and thus tearing it up from the "belated" Prussian 1st Guard Regiment were taken by surprise on foot. However, Benedek was fairly well informed about the superiority of the needle gun, not least because the head of the military intelligence service , Georg von Kees , was part of his staff. Therefore, he chose mostly dense forest terrain for the Austrian positions (as in the Swiepwald) in order to force the Prussians into close combat, in which their more modern rifles were of little use to them. This tactic also worked pretty well, up to and including the counterattack that was disastrous for the Austrians.


Rank Surname date
Major / Lieutenant Colonel / Colonel August von Krafft February 21, 1815 to September 23, 1830
Major / Lieutenant Colonel / Colonel Hans von Sydow March 30, 1832 to February 7, 1840
Colonel August of Württemberg 0 February 8, 1840 to March 30, 1844
Lieutenant Colonel / Colonel Ferdinand von Bischoffwerder March 30, 1844 to October 14, 1848
Major / Lieutenant Colonel / Colonel Adolf Lauer von Münchhofen October 14, 1848 to July 19, 1854
Colonel Wilhelm Messerschmidt von Arnim July 20, 1854 to October 21, 1856
major Julius von der Schulenburg October 22, 1856 to February 18, 1857 (responsible for the tour)
Major / Lieutenant Colonel Julius von der Schulenburg February 19, 1857 to March 24, 1858
major Albert von Rheinbaben March 25, 1858 to January 28, 1863
major Ludwig von Stenglin January 29 to April 22, 1863
major Hermann von Lüderitz April 23 to September 21, 1863 (in charge of the tour)
Lieutenant Colonel / Colonel Hermann von Lüderitz September 22, 1863 to June 17, 1869
Georg von Brandenstein June 18, 1869 to July 11, 1873
Lieutenant Colonel / Colonel Theodor of Locquenghien July 12, 1873 to November 8, 1880
Georg von Arnim 0 November 9, 1880 to November 2, 1881
major Ludwig von Ostau 0 November 3, 1881 to March 12, 1884
Lieutenant Colonel / Colonel Clemens von Fürstenberg-Borbeck March 13, 1884 to February 18, 1889
Eduard zu Salm-Horstmar February 19, 1889 to May 13, 1890
Jaroslaw von Rothkirch and Panthen May 14, 1890 to February 6, 1893
Arthur von Klinckowström 0 February 7, 1893 to June 16, 1897
Wilhelm von Hohenau June 17, 1897 to June 9, 1899
Hans von Kramsta June 10, 1899 to September 13, 1900
Bruno von Schwerin September 14, 1900 to April 21, 1902
Paul von Seeler April 22, 1902 to November 19, 1903
Lieutenant Colonel / Colonel Albert of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg November 20, 1903 to January 26, 1909
August by Cramon January 27, 1909 to January 26, 1912
Lieutenant colonel Heribert von Spee January 27, 1912 to September 19, 1916

Ridgeway: the American Fenian invasion and the 1866 battle that made Canada

At 2am on Friday 1 June 1866, Colonel John O’Neill led a Fenian army across the Niagara River to invade Canada. Tactically O’Neill was triumphant strategically, however, everything went wrong. The assault was supposed to have been but one prong of three the others never occurred. After winning the Battle of Ridgeway and a street fight in Fort Erie, O’Neill was cut off, without reinforcements or munitions, by the American government’s decision to enforce the Neutrality Act.

Peter Vronsky’s purpose is to reclaim the battle of Ridgeway as the founding moment not only of Canada’s military but also of the country itself. To do so, however, he deploys some curiously tortuous arguments: ‘Covered up and falsified in a series of inquiries, newspaper editorials, and histories penned by interested parties . . . the Battle of Ridgeway became a blank spot in Canadian history’ (p. 279). Ridgeway, he says, ‘has been forgotten not once but twice’ (p. xxxvi), and ‘Ridgeway is a battle so obscure that even many Canadian historians themselves cannot meet the challenge of identifying, dating or describing it without looking it up’ (p. xxxv). Who are these historians?

We may agree that Ridgeway does not ring many loud bells but it is surely wrong to claim that it has been overlooked or disregarded in Canadian historiography. The context included the end of the American Civil War, international tensions between the British Empire and the United States and the Canadian politics of confederation. From C.P. Stacey through to Bruce Hutchison, J.M.S. Careless and Desmond Morton (to name but a few), the role of the Fenians and their military adventures in Canada as a catalyst for confederation has been a staple, neatly summarised most recently by David Wilson: ‘Far from turning the country into a republic, they actually strengthened the cause of Confederation’ (Thomas D’Arcy McGee, vol. 2, p. 221).

What happened at Ridgeway is straightforward. Disregarding the direct orders of the British commander, an auctioneer from Hamilton named Colonel Alfred Booker marched the combined Canadian militia forces up the road from the railway station at Ridgeway into an ambush laid by O’Neill. The Canadians advanced towards the Fenian skirmishing lines, dug in behind barricades. By the time the Fenians pulled back from their first line, many of the Canadians had run out of ammunition. It is plain from O’Neill’s official report of the battle that the withdrawal was tactical—to draw the Canadians on towards his main force. But then, for reasons that remain obscure to this day, someone yelled ‘cavalry’. Booker ordered his men to form a defensive square and then tried to rescind the order O’Neill, observing their disarray, ordered a charge. The square collapsed under fire and the militia broke and ran. The mystery is the ‘cavalry’. O’Neill insisted that he only deployed a handful of mounted scouts. But there are also reports of Canadian civilians, on horseback, drawn to the battle as sightseers. In any event, Booker’s original sin of disobedience was compounded by inexperience and confusion.

Vronsky acknowledges that the Fenians were ‘experienced and cool under fire’, ‘highly skilled riflemen’, disciplined survivors of a massively brutal war, but he is not above writing this about the decisive moment when the Canadian ranks broke at Ridgeway:

‘Nothing in the Canadians’ drill, in their officers’ training school curriculum, or in their lives could have prepared them to face a bayonet charge—and certainly not the savage one that the Irish Fenians unleashed. Their charge must have been a fearsome sight and sound, one experienced over two thousand years by dozens of conscript armies facing a wild rebel Celtic charge’ (pp 152–3).

The book recounts the action on the battlefields and in the staging areas in as much detail as the conflicting accounts allow. We meet the officers and some of the men of the Queen’s Own Rifles (Toronto) and the XIII Battalion (Hamilton). Some of these mini-biographies demonstrate a deft hand—the egotism of the militia officers lends itself to pen portraiture. We learn about their background and experience (none at all: many of the militiamen had never fired a live round!), and about their equipment, armaments and travel arrangements (all inadequate: they had no food, no water, not enough ammunition, no maps, no horses). Finally, Vronsky provides a detailed account of the main action at Ridgeway and in Fort Erie, including almost minute-by-minute accounts of the actions of some of the Canadians on the battlefield. In short, we have the story told from the Canadian point of view.

The strength—and central weakness—of the book is its detailed but lopsided account of the battles. Vronsky’s commitment to his two principal concerns—to rescue the ‘forgotten’ Ridgeway from oblivion and to ‘restore’ the reputation of the Canadian militiamen who fought—makes for fascinating frustration. If it takes two to tango, surely a war needs an antagonist as well as a protagonist. Early on, he does provide a useful initial order of battle of the Fenian army, but for the rest of the action he barely mentions any of the Fenian combatants, except O’Neill. The result of Vronsky’s partisanship is almost Ridgeway without the Fenians—the Little Big Horn without the Lakota, all Custer and no Crazy Horse. HI

Michael Quigley is a historian and editor of the newsletter of the Canadian Association for Irish Studies.