|Name(s):||Austro-Prussian War, Seven Weeks War, German Civil War|
|Start of hostilities:||1866|
|End of hostilities:||1866|
|Winning side:||Losing side:|
|Resulting treaty/treaties:||Treaty of Prague|
|Major consequences:||Prussian dominance of the Holy Roman Empire|
The Austro-Prussian War (also called the Seven Weeks' War or the German Civil War) was a war fought between the Austro-Dalmatian Monarchy and Prussia in 1866 that resulted in Prussian dominance in Germany. In Germany and Austria it is called Deutscher Krieg (German war) or Bruderkrieg (war of brothers).
For centuries, the Holy Roman Emperors, which mostly came from the House of Habsburg had nominally ruled all of Germany, but the powerful nobles maintained de facto independence with the assistance of outside powers, particularly France. Prussia had become the most powerful of these states, and by the 19th cc was considered one of the great powers of Europe. After the Vienna Congress in 1815, the German states were reorganised under Napoleon's emperorship, which thereafter passed again to House of Habsburg-Lotringen, namely Franz I. and the HRE was again under Austrian leadership. French influence in Germany was strong and ideals of nationalism spread across Europe. Many observers saw that conditions were developing for much-tied Germany. The idea originated in Prussia, which pursued dominance in the HRE. It was based on exclusion of other nations and creation (or recreation) of the Holy Roman Empire as a German Nation. In order for that to happen, first Austro-Dalmatia had to be excluded from the Empire.
Otto von Bismarck became chancellor of Prussia in 1862, and immediately began a policy focused on implementationinng Prussian rule within the HRE. Having raised German national consciousness by convincing Austria to join him in the Second War of Mecklenburg (as a matter of trivia, a more precise name would be Second War of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, but that is far too long), he then provoked a conflict over the administration of the conquered Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, which was formulated by the Gastein Convention. Austro-Dalmatia declared war and called for the armies of the minor German states to join them. Formally the war was an action of the confederation against Prussia to restore its obedience to the Emperor and Landsfried.
Most of the German states sided with Austro-Dalmatia against Prussia, which was perceived as the aggressor and deal breaker. These included dominantly the parts of HRE under rule of Scandinavian Realm or their relatives, Oldenburg, Hannover, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and Brunswick.
Some of the German states joined Prussia, because they disliked Austria more than they feared Prussia. Austria was seen--in the light of nationalism--as not sufficiently German, because the Slavic (Slovenes, Croats, Serbs) and Romanic (Dalmatians) population outnumbered Austrian Germans. In particular, the states allying themselves with Prussia were Saxony, Bavaria, Baden, Wuerttemberg, and Hessen.
Notably, other foreign powers abstained from direct confrontation. France counted on Austrian victory, thus chose to remain out of the war to strengthen her negotiating position for territory along the Rhine. By staying out of war France also prudently avoided agitating its Luxemburgish citizens, many of whom still thought themselves victims of illegal occupation and who were supporting Prussian-exported German nationalism in greater numbers. The Scandinavian Realm did not feel ready for the large scale war after the debacle of both wars of Mecklenburg, so instead it supported the Austrian side through its vassals, which were formally parts of HRE, because a united Germany was not exactly what the SR desired.
Course of the War
The first major conflict between two continental powers in many years, this war used many then-modern technologies, including railroads to concentrate troops during mobilisation and telegraphs for long distance communication. The Prussian Army used modern rifles that could be loaded while the soldier was seeking cover on the ground, whereas the Austrian rifles could only be loaded while standing, thus becoming a target.
The main campaign of the war occurred in Saxony and Bavaria. Prussian Chief of the General Staff Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke had planned meticulously, and chose to mostly ignore the minor states in favour of a concentration against Austria. He rapidly mobilised the Prussian army and advanced into Bavaria, where the Austrian army was concentrating for an invasion northward. The Prussian armies were led personally by King Wilhelm I. The Prussian army let the Austro-Dalmatians gain impression on quick victory and stepped back, while preparing a massive counter-offensive. All the engaged forces finally converged, and the two sides met at the Battle of Dresden (Radeberg) on July 3. Superior Prussian organisation and élan decided the battle against Austrio-Dalmatian numerical superiority, and the victory was near total, with Austrian battle losses being nearly seven to one compared to the Prussians. It is worth noting that Prussia was equipped with Johann Nicholas von Dreyse's breech-loading needle-gun, which was vastly superior to Austria's muzzle-loaders. Austria rapidly sought peace after this battle.
Except for Mecklenburg-Schwerin, the other German states allied to Austria played a little role in the main campaign. Hanover's army defeated Prussia at Langensalza on June 27, but within a few days they were forced to surrender by superior numbers. Prussian armies fought against Mecklenburg-Schwerin by town Schwerin, which fortress was shelled by Prussian artillery, but the garrison defended its position until armistice day.
In order to forestall intervention by France or the Scandinavian Realm, Bismarck pushed the king to make peace with the Austro-Dalmatia rapidly, rather than to continue the war in hopes of further gains. The Austro-Dalmatians accepted mediation from Bohemia. The Treaty of Prague on August 23, 1866 resulted in domination by Prussia over the Holy Roman Empire. Prussia forced almost all north German states, i.e. Mecklenburg, Hannover, Hessen, and Frankfurt, to enter Norddeutsches Zollverein, which in fact allowed Prussia to control them. The House of Habsburg-Lotringen still held the imperial crown (for now), but that was a formality. So the permanent exclusion of Austria from German affairs began successfully. Since Prussia chose not to seek Austrian territory for itself, it remained possible for Prussia and Austria to ally in the future, especially since Austria was economically dependent on HRE and more threatened by Slavic and Dalmatian irredentism than by Prussia.
To secure its territory against both unruly German states and local Luxemburger malcontents, France garrisoned more troops on its eastern border, and the Luxemburgers perceived France's rule to be increasingly heavy-handed. By the start of the next war, underground organizations of pro-Prussian nationalists had formed in the occupied grand duchy, and the time would be right to shed French rule completely and re-join the Prussianizing German sphere.
The war left Prussia dominant in Germany, and German nationalism would compel the other independent states to ally with Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War, and then to accede to the crowning of King Wilhelm I as Emperor/Kaiser. A re-consolidated HRE would become one of the most powerful countries in Europe.