Ludwig von Benedek

Ludwig August Ritter von Benedek [German title|Ritter] (14 July 1804 – 27 April 1881), also known as Lajos Benedek, was an Austrian general ("Feldzeugmeister") of Hungarian descent, best known for commanding the imperial army in 1866 in the Battle of Königgrätz against the Prussian Army.

Early life

Early years

Benedek was born in Sopron as the son of a physician. He was trained at the Theresiana Military Academy in Vienna, from which he graduated seventh in his class. In 1822, he was assigned to the 27th infantry regiment of the Austrian Imperial Army. He was made a First Lieutenant in 1833, and was assigned to the Quartermaster-General. In 1835, he was promoted to the rank of Captain.

In 1840 Benedek was made a Major and aide to the General Commander of Galicia. While still serving in Galicia he was again promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in 1843. For suppressing an uprising in the town of Gdow in 1846 he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Order of Leopold as well as given the rank of Colonel.

Commander in Italy

In August 1847, Benedek was entrusted with the command of the 33rd infantry regiment in Italy. On 5 April 1848 he took over the command of a newly formed brigade that consisted of two battalions. This brigade saw battle in the first Italian war of independence several times, notably at Curtatone in 1848. The following day, Benedek led his troops in the Battle of Goito.

Benedek was afterwards awarded the Commanders' Cross of the Order of Leopold, and the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa. This officially made Benedek a knight (hence Ludwig, Ritter von Benedek). On April 3, 1849, he became Major General and was appointed to the staff of the Chief of Quartermaster-General with the 2nd Army in Italy.

Hungary and Italy

Hungarian war of independence

In 1849, Benedek was sent to Hungary. Leading troops in the Battle of Győr, he was instrumental in striking down the rebellion. At another battle in Szőny he was seriously wounded. He was given the Military Merit Cross and made Regimental Colonel. Benedek was made Chief of Staff to Radetzky in Italy.

He was promoted to "Feldmarschalleutnant" in 1852 and, when Radetzky retired in 1857, Benedek became the Commander of the II Army Corps.

Battle of San Martino/Solferino

In early 1859, Benedek was Commander General of the VIIIth army corps in the Second Italian War of Independence. On 27 May, 1859, he was promoted to the rank of Feldzeugmeister, second in command of the entire Austrian Army. On 24 June, under the command of the young Emperor Franz Joseph I, he fought in the Battle of Solferino against the French troops of the Emperor Napoleon III.

Benedek was attacked on the right flank by the entire army of King Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont-Sardinia, just a few kilometers north of Solferino in the Battle of San Martino. The Austrian units threw the Piedmontese back at first and were able to hold their ground. In the meantime Franz Joseph was defeated at Solferino and Benedek aided his retreat to San Martino. Benedek received the Commander's Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa in 1859.

After the Austrian defeat, Benedek was appointed Chief of the General Quartermaster Staff on January 31, 1860, and to the Governorship of Hungary in April.

On October 20, 1860, Benedek assumed command of the Austrian forces in Lombardy-Venetia, Carinthia, Carniola, the Tyrol and the Adriatic Coastland and was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold with War Decoration on January 14, 1862.

Austro-Prussian War

Battle of Königgrätz

At the outbreak of the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, Benedek was made the Commander in Chief of the Northern Army. Benedek had previously declined the appointment three times, claiming that he knew neither the terrain in the north nor the enemy. The Kingdom of Prussia's superior needle guns could fire a round faster than the Austrians, and provided an advantage to that side.

The Austrian army under Benedek was concentrated at Olmütz (Olomouc). The campaign began with Bittenfeld's advance to Dresden in Saxony, where he easily defeated the Saxon army of 25,000 and joined with the First Army. Benedek meanwhile began moving his army to Josefov.

After retreating to the Elbe, Benedek was intimidated by the heavy losses his army had suffered so far and uncertain of his capability. He desired peace, but Emperor Franz Joseph ordered him to fight a battle first. He also dismissed his chief of staff and operations officer for incompetence and chose a defensive position between Sadowa (Sadová) and Königgrätz (Hradec Králové). He planned to delay the Prussians until he could retreat across the Elbe. When on July 3, 1866, the Prussians attacked, Benedek had a numerical advantage of 2-1. Neglecting to use his superior numbers to crush the Prussian 1st army, the arrival of the Prussian 2nd army under Crown Prince Frederick William in his flank and rear turned the day into a devastating defeat. Given the completeness of the Austrian defeat, an armistice ensued three weeks later.

Loss of command

This placed Emperor Franz Joseph I in a difficult position. There was extensive demand for the blame for the defeat to be placed on Benedek. He resigned as Commander-in-Chief at Pressburg (Bratislava) on July 26, 1866. The highest military law senate imposed a court martial against him and was to investigate of the battle. This was stopped by the instruction of the emperor.

Benedek was ordered never to speak about the circumstances of the defeat. When a scathing article in the "Wiener Zeitung" on December 8, 1866 blamed him alone for the catastrophe, he had no right to reply.

The former first soldier of the Empire lived for another fifteen years in quiet retirement at Graz, and died there on April 27, 1881.

Footnotes

References

* [http://www.austro-hungarian-army.co.uk/biog/benedek.htm| Ludwig Ritter von Benedek]


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