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- History of Modern Europe 1792-1878 - 170/202 -

conclusion, and the Austrian Emperor had thus become aware of his danger. He now determined to sacrifice Venetia if Italy's neutrality could be so secured. On the 5th of May the Italian ambassador at Paris, Count Nigra, was informed by Napoleon that Austria had offered to cede Venetia to him on behalf of Victor Emmanuel if France and Italy would not prevent Austria from indemnifying itself at Prussia's expense in Silesia. Without a war, at the price of mere inaction, Italy was offered all that it could gain by a struggle which was likely to be a desperate one, and which might end in disaster. La Marmora was in sore perplexity. Though he had formed a juster estimate of the capacity of the Prussian army than any other statesman or soldier in Europe, he was thoroughly suspicious of the intentions of the Prussian Government; and in sanctioning the alliance of the previous month he had done so half expecting that Bismarck would through the prestige of this alliance gain for Prussia its own objects without entering into war, and then leave Italy to reckon with Austria as best it might. He would gladly have abandoned the alliance and have accepted Austria's offer if Italy could have done this without disgrace. But the sense of honour was sufficiently strong to carry him past this temptation. He declined the offer made through Paris, and continued the armaments of Italy, though still with a secret hope that European diplomacy might find the means of realising the purpose of his country without war. [521]

[Proposals for a Congress.]

The neutral Powers were now, with various objects, bestirring themselves in favour of a European Congress. Napoleon believed the time to be come when the Treaties of 1815 might be finally obliterated by the joint act of Europe. He was himself ready to join Prussia with three hundred thousand men if the King would transfer the Rhenish Provinces to France. Demands, direct and indirect, were made on Count Bismarck on behalf of the Tuileries for cessions of territory of greater or less extent. These demands were neither granted nor refused. Bismarck procrastinated; he spoke of the obstinacy of the King his master; he inquired whether parts of Belgium or Switzerland would not better assimilate with France than a German province; he put off the Emperor's representatives by the assurance that he could more conveniently arrange these matters with the Emperor when he should himself visit Paris. On the 28th of May invitations to a Congress were issued by France, England, and Russia jointly, the objects of the Congress being defined as the settlement of the affairs of Schleswig-Holstein, of the differences between Austria and Italy, and of the reform of the Federal Constitution of Germany, in so far as these affected Europe at large. The invitation was accepted by Prussia and by Italy; it was accepted by Austria only under the condition that no arrangement should be discussed which should give an increase of territory or power to one of the States invited to the Congress. This subtly-worded condition would not indeed have excluded the equal aggrandisement of all. It would not have rendered the cession of Venetia to Italy or the annexation of Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia impossible; but it would either have involved the surrender of the former Papal territory by Italy in order that Victor Emmanuel's dominions should receive no increase, or, in the alternative, it would have entitled Austria to claim Silesia as its own equivalent for the augmentation of the Italian Kingdom. Such reservations would have rendered any efforts of the Powers to preserve peace useless, and they were accepted as tantamount to a refusal on the part of Austria to attend the Congress. Simultaneously with its answer to the neutral Powers, Austria called upon the Federal Diet to take the affairs of Schleswig-Holstein into its own hands, and convoked the Holstein Estates. Bismarck thereupon declared the Convention of Gastein to be at an end, and ordered General Manteuffel to lead his troops into Holstein. The Austrian commander, protesting that he yielded only to superior force, withdrew through Altona into Hanover. Austria at once demanded and obtained from the Diet of Frankfort the mobilisation of the whole of the Federal armies. The representative of Prussia, declaring that this act of the Diet had made an end of the existing Federal union, handed in the plan of his Government for the reorganisation of Germany, and quitted Frankfort. Diplomatic relations between Austria and Prussia were broken off on the 12th of June, and on the 15th Count Bismarck demanded of the sovereigns of Hanover, Saxony, and Hesse-Cassel, that they should on that very day put a stop to their military preparations and accept the Prussian scheme of Federal reform. Negative answers being given, Prussian troops immediately marched into these territories, and war began. Weimar, Mecklenburg, and other petty States in the north took part with Prussia: all the rest of Germany joined Austria. [522]

[German Opinion.]

The goal of Bismarck's desire, the end which he had steadily set before himself since entering upon his Ministry, was attained; and, if his calculations as to the strength of the Prussian army were not at fault, Austria was at length to be expelled from the German Federation by force of arms. But the process by which Bismarck had worked up to this result had ranged against him the almost unanimous opinion of Germany outside the military circles of Prussia itself. His final demand for the summoning of a German Parliament was taken as mere comedy. The guiding star of his policy had hitherto been the dynastic interest of the House of Hohenzollern; and now, when the Germans were to be plunged into war with one another, it seemed as if the real object of the struggle was no more than the annexation of the Danish Duchies and some other coveted territory to the Prussian Kingdom. The voice of protest and condemnation rose loud from every organ of public opinion. Even in Prussia itself the instances were few where any spontaneous support was tendered to the Government. The Parliament of Berlin, struggling up to the end against the all-powerful Minister, had seen its members prosecuted for speeches made within its own walls, and had at last been prorogued in order that its insubordination might not hamper the Crown in the moment of danger. But the mere disappearance of Parliament could not conceal the intensity of ill-will which the Minister and his policy had excited. The author of a fratricidal war of Germans against Germans was in the eyes of many the greatest of all criminals; and on the 7th of May an attempt was made by a young fanatic to take Bismarck's life in the streets of Berlin. The Minister owed the preservation of his life to the feebleness of his assailant's weapon and to his own vigorous arm. But the imminence of the danger affected King William far more than Bismarck himself. It spoke to his simple mind of supernatural protection and aid; it stilled his doubts; and confirmed him in the belief that Prussia was in this crisis the instrument for working out the Almighty's will.

[Napoleon III.]

A few days before the outbreak of hostilities the Emperor Napoleon gave publicity to his own view of the European situation. He attributed the coming war to three causes: to the faulty geographical limits of the Prussian State, to the desire for a better Federal system in Germany, and to the necessity felt by the Italian nation for securing its independence. These needs would, he conceived, be met by a territorial rearrangement in the north of Germany consolidating and augmenting the Prussian Kingdom; by the creation of a more effective Federal union between the secondary German States; and finally, by the incorporation of Venetia with Italy, Austria's position in Germany remaining unimpaired. Only in the event of the map of Europe being altered to the exclusive advantage of one Great Power would France require an extension of frontier. Its interests lay in the preservation of the equilibrium of Europe, and in the maintenance of the Italian Kingdom. These had already been secured by arrangements which would not require France to draw the sword; a watchful but unselfish neutrality was the policy which its Government had determined to pursue. Napoleon had in fact lost all control over events, and all chance of gaining the Rhenish Provinces, from the time when he permitted Italy to enter into the Prussian alliance without any stipulation that France should at its option be admitted as a third member of the coalition. He could not ally himself with Austria against his own creation, the Italian Kingdom; on the other hand, he had no means of extorting cessions from Prussia when once Prussia was sure of an ally who could bring two hundred thousand men into the field. His diplomacy had been successful in so far as it had assured Venetia to Italy whether Prussia should be victorious or overthrown, but as regarded France it had landed him in absolute powerlessness. He was unable to act on one side; he was not wanted on the other. Neutrality had become a matter not of choice but of necessity; and until the course of military events should have produced some new situation in Europe, France might well be watchful, but it could scarcely gain much credit for its disinterested part. [523]

[Hanover and Hesse-Cassel conquered.]

[The Bohemian Campaign, June 26-July 3.]

[Battle of Königgrätz, July 3.]

Assured against an attack from the side of the Rhine, Bismarck was able to throw the mass of the Prussian forces southwards against Austria, leaving in the north only the modest contingent which was necessary to overcome the resistance of Hanover and Hesse-Cassel. Through the precipitancy of a Prussian general, who struck without waiting for his colleagues, the Hanoverians gained a victory at Langensalza on the 27th of June; but other Prussian regiments arrived on the field a few hours later, and the Hanoverian army was forced to capitulate on the next day. The King made his escape to Austria; the Elector of Hesse-Cassel, less fortunate, was made a prisoner of war. Northern Germany was thus speedily reduced to submission, and any danger of a diversion in favour of Austria in this quarter disappeared. In Saxony no attempt was made to bar the way to the advancing Prussians. Dresden was occupied without resistance, but the Saxon army marched southwards in good time, and joined the Austrians in Bohemia. The Prussian forces, about two hundred and fifty thousand strong, now gathered on the Saxon and Silesian frontier, covering the line from Pirna to Landshut. They were composed of three armies: the first, or central, army under Prince Frederick Charles, a nephew of the King; the second, or Silesian, army under the Crown Prince; the westernmost, known as the army of the Elbe, under General Herwarth von Bittenfeld. Against these were ranged about an equal number of Austrians, led by Benedek, a general who had gained great distinction in the Hungarian and the Italian campaigns. It had at first been thought probable that Benedek, whose forces lay about Olmütz, would invade Southern Silesia, and the Prussian line had therefore been extended far to the east. Soon, however, it appeared that the Austrians were unable to take up the offensive, and Benedek moved westwards into Bohemia. The Prussian line was now shortened, and orders were given to the three armies to cross the Bohemian frontier and converge in the direction of the town of Gitschin. General Moltke, the chief of the staff, directed their operations from Berlin by telegraph. The combined advance of the three armies was executed with extraordinary precision; and in a series of hard-fought combats extending from the 26th to the 29th of June the Austrians were driven back upon their centre, and effective communication was established between the three invading bodies. On the 30th the King of Prussia, with General Moltke and Count Bismarck, left Berlin; on the 2nd of July they were at headquarters at Gitschin. It had been Benedek's design to leave a small force to hold the Silesian army in check, and to throw the mass of his army westwards upon Prince Frederick Charles and overwhelm him before he could receive help from his colleagues. This design had been baffled by the energy of the Crown Prince's attack, and by the superiority of the Prussians in generalship, in the discipline of their troops, and in the weapon they carried; for though the Austrians had witnessed in the Danish campaign the effects of the Prussian breech-loading rifle, they had not thought it necessary to adopt a similar arm. Benedek, though no great battle had yet been fought, saw that the campaign was lost, and wrote to the Emperor on the 1st of July recommending him to make peace, for otherwise a catastrophe was inevitable. He then concentrated his army on high ground a few miles west of Königgrätz, and prepared for a defensive battle on the grandest scale. In spite of the losses of the past week he could still bring about two hundred thousand men into action. The three Prussian armies were now near enough to one another to combine in their attack, and on the night of July 2nd the King sent orders to the three commanders to move against Benedek before daybreak. Prince Frederick Charles, advancing through the village of Sadowa, was the first in the

History of Modern Europe 1792-1878 - 170/202

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