Military Wiki
Campaign of the Main
Part of Austro-Prussian War of 1866
Main-Karte-160710 - Mainarmee.jpg
Way of the Prussian Army in the campaign of the Main
Date1 – 26 July 1866
(25 days)
LocationHesse, Baden and Bavaria
Result Prussian victory
  • Kingdom of Prussia Prussia
  • Saxe-Coburg & Gotha
  • Lippe
  • Bremen
  •  Bavaria
  •  Württemberg
  • Hesse Hesse-Kassel
  •  Baden
  • Hesse-Darmstadt
  • Nassau
  •  Austria
  • Commanders and leaders
    3 divisions:
    50,000 soldiers, thereof 41,000 infantry,
    4,000 cavalry,
    121 cannons
    VIIth corps (Bavaria):
    4 divisions and corps-reserve:
    52,000 soldiers,
    144 cannons

    VIIIth corps:
    4 divisions (Württemberg, Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, Austria / Nassau / Hesse-Kassel):
    48,000 soldiers,[1]
    136 cannons
    Casualties and losses
    411 dead; 2498 wounded; 153 missed[2]

    VIIth corps: 339 dead; 2114 wounded; 1604 missed[3]

    VIIIth Korps: 402 dead; 1439 wounded; 2444 missed[4]

    The Campaign of the Main (in German: Mainfeldzug) was a campaign of the Prussian army in the area of the river Main against the allies of Austria in Southern Germany during the Austro-Prussian War of 1866.

    Preliminary campaign

    While the greater part of the Prussian troops marched to Bohemia, where they defeated the Austrian and Saxon troops on 3 July 1866 at Königgrätz (Sadova), another part of the Prussian troops invaded the Kingdom of Hanover. After the surrender of Hanover on June 29 these troops - including some small units of allies of Prussia - were grouped under the name Mainarmee (German for: Army of the Main) and pushed southward towards the river Main against the South-German allies of Austria.


    The allies of Austria had formed the VIIth and VIIIth Federal Corps of the German Confederation. Both corps had advanced northward to support Hanover. When Hanover surprisingly surrendered the VIIth Corps, built by the Bavarians, stood in Thuringia. The VIIIth Corps, built by troops of Hesse, and Wuerttemberg, stood north of Frankfurt. At first the Prussians attacked the VIIth Corps. The Bavarian troops lost combats at Hünfeld and Dermbach on 4 July and withdrew to the river Franconian Saale.[5] But the Prussians followed quickly across the mountains of the Rhön and beat the Bavarians in the battle of Kissingen and Hammelburg on 10 July.[6][7][8]

    Now the Bavarians retreated to Würzburg while the Prussians turned westward against the VIIIth Corps which protected Frankfurt. The Prussians crossed the Spessart, defeated the Hessians at Laufach/Frohnhofen on 13 July and the Austrian and Hessian troops at Aschaffenburg on 14 July. The Federal troops had to withdraw westward to the left bank of the Main. After the Prussians had conquered Aschaffenburg and crossed the Main the way to Frankfurt and Darmstadt was open. Now the VIIIth Corps abandoned Frankfurt, moved south across the Odenwald and then turned eastward to meet the Bavarians at the river Tauber. The Prussians occupied the now undefended Frankfurt on 16 July and then followed the VIIIth Corps along the left bank of the Main.[9][10] In the combat of Hundheim (23 July), the battles of Werbach, Tauberbischofsheim (both 24 July) and Gerchsheim (25 July) the VIIIth Corps was defeated by the Prussians.[11][12] At 25 July the Prussians also clashed with the Bavarians again at Helmstadt and the following day at Rossbrunn. This combats were also won by the Prussians.[13] The allied troops retreated to Würzburg. The Prussians followed and began to bombard the fortress of Würzburg on 26 July. But soon a truce was negotiated after the news had reached the Bavarian headquarters, that the Prussians and the Austrians had signed their Armistice of Nikolsburg at the same day. At last Würzburg was occupied by the Prussians.[14][15][16]

    In a separate operation the 2nd Prussian reserve corps marched into Bavaria at the north-east on 23 July and occupied Hof, Bayreuth (28 July) and at last Nuremberg (31 July).[17][18]

    Reasons for the Prussian victory

    The Prussian victory is more the result of better organization than of the technical superiority of the Prussian weapons like the needle gun (Zündnadelgewehr).[19] Helmut von Moltke, the chief of the Prussian general staff, had planned an offensive war to beat the federal troops before they could unite and fully use their superiority in men and equipment. The plan was successful because the untrained federal armies needed a long time for mobilization which the Prussians had prepared well. Furthermore the Prussians had one unified command which the federal side had not. Formally Karl von Bayern, the commander of the VIIth corps, was supreme commander of all the federal troops, but Alexander von Hessen, the chief of the VIIIth corps, also received orders from the Federal Convention (Bundestag) in Frankfurt and the governments of the states which had sent troops. The communication between the federal troops was as insufficient as their reconnaissance so that they often had to react instead of acting initiatively.[20]


    The German Confederation was abolished. Prussia annexed Hannover, Nassau, Hesse-Kassel and Frankfurt and small parts of Hesse-Darmstadt and Bavaria. Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden and Hesse-Darmstadt remained independent, but had to sign military alliances with Prussia. In Bavaria a fundamental army reform followed in 1868.


    1. Alexander von Hessen-Darmstadt: Feldzugs-Journal des Oberbefehlshabers des 8ten deutschen Bundes-Armee-Corps im Feldzuge des Jahres 1866 in Westdeutschland, Eduard Zernin, Darmstadt & Leipzig 1867, p. 39 (Stand am 24. Juli 1866) online
    2. Österreichs Kämpfe im Jahre 1866. Nach Feldacten bearbeitet durch das k.k. Generalstabs-Bureau für Kriegsgeschichte. Fünfter Band (Vol. 5), Vienna 1869, chapter: Die Kriegsereignisse in Westdeutschland im Jahre 1866, p. 32-174 (scan p. 206-348) digitalised; compiled from the tables of losses
    3. Antheil der königlich bayerischen Armee am Kriege des Jahres 1866, bearbeitet vom Generalquartiermeister-Stabe, München 1868, Beilage III, S. XVIII/XIX digitalised. This are the official figures. According to recent research, they are incomplete. Considerably higher numbers of victims are assumed in: Walter Hamm: Die Toten der bayerischen Armee des Jahres 1866. In: Dieter Storz, Daniel Hohrath (Ed.): Nord gegen Süd. Der Deutsche Krieg 1866 (= Kataloge des Bayerischen Armeemuseums. Band 13). Bayerisches Armeemuseum, Ingolstadt 2016, ISBN 978-3-00-053589-5. p. 77-83. available online
    4. s. Alexander von Hessen
    5. Michael Embree: Too Little, Too Late: The Campaign in West and South Germany, June–July 1866. Published by Helion & Company, Solihull, West Midlands, England, 2015, ISBN 978-1-909384-50-7. pp. 68–88.
    6. Theodor Fontane: Der deutsche Krieg von 1866. Der Feldzug in West- und Mitteldeutschland. Berlin 1871. pp. 41–154 digitalised
    7. Antheil der königlich bayerischen Armee am Kriege des Jahres 1866. München 1868. p. 26-140 digitalised
    8. s. Embree pp. 89–124.
    9. s. Fontane p. 155-200
    10. s. Embree p.125-154
    11. s. Fontane 201-254
    12. s. Embree p. 154-186
    13. s. Antheil p. 140-159
    14. s. Antheil p. 159-208
    15. s. Fontane p. 255-265
    16. s. Embree 187-194
    17. s. Antheil p. 209-223
    18. s. Fontane p. 266-287
    19. Dieter Storz: Die Bewaffnung. In: Dieter Storz, Daniel Hohrath (Ed.): Nord gegen Süd. Der Deutsche Krieg 1866. p. 47-51
    20. Dieter Storz: Der Feldzug. In: Dieter Storz, Daniel Hohrath (Ed.): Nord gegen Süd. Der Deutsche Krieg 1866. p. 57-59

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