Austro-Prussian War

   Also known as the Seven Weeks’ War, the Austro-Prussian War was a short although pivotal episode in the wars of German unification. German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck sought the conflict in order to annex the northern states of the German Confederation and also to expel Austrian influence from southern Germany. After the defeat of Denmark in the Schleswig-Holstein War, Prussia and Austria quarreled over newly acquired territory until a Prussian army under Edwin Hans Karl von Manteuffel forced a weaker Austrian force out of Holstein. On June 14, Austria, Bavaria, Saxony, Hanover, and several smaller German states declared war. After securing the neutrality of France and a secret alliance with Italy (Piedmont-Sardinia), Bismarck ordered Prussian forces under Helmuth von Moltke to the offensive. Austria possessed an army of some 320,000 men, yet could field only 240,000 against Prussia’s 254,000 because of the need to fight Italy simultaneously. The Austrian army was at the time widely considered to be superior, but the very reverse was demonstrated when the better trained and better equipped Prussian army demolished the Austrians at Königgrätz. Prussia was further advantaged by two other factors. Most of the Austrian officers spoke only German, whereas many of their troops spoke one or the other of the several languages of the multinational Habsburg Empire. The Austrians were also outclassed in their mobilization effort, as Prussia had superior railway and telegraph systems. The fighting was made brief by these factors, as well as by Bismarck’s restraint of Prussian generals, who wanted to invade Austria, and his insistence on a magnanimous peace. On August 23, the Treaty of Prague stripped Austria of no territory save Ventia, which went to Italy. The south German states that had been in Vienna’s sphere of influence, however, now quickly came into Prussia’s orbit by way of secret agreements; meanwhile, Frankfurt, Hanover, Hesse-Cassel, Hesse-Nassau, and Schleswig-Holstein were annexed to Prussia.
   In one stroke, Prussia became the unrivaled leader of the German states. The Franco-Prussian War and an even more spectacular demonstration of Prussian military professionalism made it the dominant power on the European continent.
   See also <>; <>.
    Showalter, Dennis. The Wars of German Unification. London: Hodder Arnold, 2004;
    Wawro, Geoffrey. The Austro-Prussian War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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