The Battle of Rossbach
5 November 1757

On 5 November 1757, King Frederick II of Prussia and his army of 22,000 men defeated the 42,000 strong combined French and Imperial Army of Field Marshal Joseph Frederick William Prince of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Frederick the Great and his staff spent the morning of 5th November on the tower of Rossbach church, observing the enemy army marching south from the town of Mücheln, then turning west between Branderoda and Gröst. The Prussian army broke camp north of Rossbach when Hildburghausen’s army was seen advancing on Pettstädt. The Prussian withdrawal on the northern side of a ridgeline extending from Lunstädter Rüster to the Janus- and Pölzenhügel, was hidden from enemy view. Free-Battalion Mayr, Hussar-Regiment von Szekely (H 1), and two squadrons of Hussar-Regiment von Seydlitz (H 8) acted as a rear-guard.

Battle of Rossbach. The situation at 3:15 p.m, Prussian artillerie opens fire from Janus Hill, Prussian cavalry deploys for attack on the reverse slope of Pölzen Hill

Hildburghausen ordered 33 squadrons of German cavalry under Major-General Prince of Hohenzollern to advance south of the Janus and Pölzen hills, presumably in an attempt to harrass and cut off the Prussian retreat. Meanwhile, the slower infantry of the French and Imperial army marched past Pettstädt in four columns, then turned north-east in the direction of Reichardtswerben and Pölzen-Hügel. If Hildburghausen had ordered a reconnaissance of the Janus Hill, he might have been informed in time that the Prussians were not retreating at all, but deploying for battle in the cover of the ridgeline.

The Prince of Hohenzollern had crossed the Nordstraße road leading from Reichardtswerben across the Janushügel to Großkayna at 3:15 p.m., with Bretlach and Trauttmannsdorf Kürassiers in the lead, when they came under sudden fire from Prussian heavy artillery on the Janus Hill. Just 15 minutes later, Major-General von Seydlitz launched a cavalry charge from the reverse slope of the Pölzen hill which hit Hohenzollern’s squadrons by surprise and routed them.

At the time of the cavalry charge, Prussian infantry crossed the ridgeline on a frontage of 2000 m between Lunstädter Büster and Janus-Hügel, and advanced into the plain south of Lunstädt and west of Reichardtswerben in a staggered line formation with its right flank refused to the enemy.

The routed German cavalry fled in the direction of its own infantry columns, causing panic among the troops. All six battalion of the Franconian contingent of the Reichsarmee, regiments von Ferentheil, Kronegk, and Varell, turned and ran. Other regiments attempted to deployed for battle, collided with neighbouring units in the densely packed marching columns, and became disordered. At the head of the columns, the regiments of Piemont, St. Chamond, Mailly, La Marck, Poitou, and Provence managed to deploy forward in line, but their desperate bayonet attack was beaten back by Prussian artillery cannister and platoon volley fire from infantry regiments von Kleist (Nr. 9) and Alt-Braunschweig (Nr. 5).

In the meantime, Major-General von Seydlitz had regrouped his cavalry southwest of Tagewerben and was ready to launch his second decisive cavalry charge of the day, this time against the already disordered enemy infantry. Hard-pressed on two sides, the remainder of the French and Imperial Army dissolved and fled in the direction of Pettstädt. The retreat was covered by the Swiss brigade of Wittemer, as well as Reichsarmee regiments Blau-Würzburg, Hesse-Darmstadt, and Kurtrier, and French cavalry regiments La Reine, Bourbon and Rougrave.

Opposing Forces

  • King Frederick II. of Prussia
  • Field Marshal Joseph Frederick William Prince of Saxe-Hildburghausen
    • Combined French and Imperial Army

Photos of the Battlefield at Rossbach

The following three photos show a section of the Rossbach battlefield north of Reichardtswerben. All three pictures were taken from the camera position at the foot of the Janus Hill, indicated in the map above.

View from the foot of the Janus Hill, looking south towards the Reichardtswerben church 2000 meters away

View from the foot of the Janus Hill looking 2000 meters south towards the church at Reichardtswerben. To the left can be seen the extension of the Nordstraße road which runs from Reichardtswerben to the top of the Janus Hill, 500 meters behind the viewer, and the town of Großkayna which is 5 km away from Reichardtswerben. The Austrian cuirassier regiments Bretlach and Trauttmannsdorf hat just crossed the Nordstraße at 3:15 p.m., on a line 750 to 1500 meters south of the Janushügel, followed by Palatinal Cuirassiers, Wuerttemberg and Ansbach Dragoons, and Szecheny Hussars, when heavy Prussian artillery opened fire on them from the Janus Hill. 15 minutes later, 38 squadrons of Prussian cavalry in two lines launched a suprise attack which routed the imperial squadrons.

View from the foot of the Janus Hill northeast, in the direction of Wengelsdorf, across the ground of the first cavalry charge of the day

View from the foot of the Janus Hill northeast, in the direction of Wengelsdorf. The ground rises northeast of the Nordstraße to the Pölzenhügel 1500 meters away, then slopes down towards Wengelsdorf. Prussian cavalry under Seydlitz was hidden on the reverse slope until Bretlach and Trauttmannsdorff cuirassiers had approached to a distance of 750 meters. Then the surprise attack was launched in two lines. Dragoon regiments von Czettritz (D IV) and von Meinicke (D III), and Prussian Leib-Kürassiers had already beaten the enemy, when Seydlitz released 18 squadrons of the second line and five flanking squadrons of hussars against both flanks of Hohenzollern’s cavalry command to completely rout and disperse him.

View from the foot of Janus Hill to the town of Großkayna, 3 km to the north

View from the foot ot Janus Hill looking 3000 meters north towards the town of Großkayna. This view is possible today, because the Janus Hill has been destroyed by coal mining. In its stead is the Südfeldsee lake. The highest point of the Janus Hill was above a spot on the lake approximately 500 m north of the point of view.

The church at Reichardtswerben near the Roßbach battlefield.
Museum of the Battle of Roßbach at the Pfarrhaus Reichardtswerben.

The tower of Reichardtswerben church had a more imposing helmet in the 18th century than it does today. A model of the church can be seen in the diorama of the Battle of Rossbach.

During and after the battle, the pastor’s house and church stables served as a hospital. Today, the Museum and Diorama of the Battle of Rossbach with 4,500 miniatures are housed here.

Campaigns, Battles and Events of the Seven Years’ War, 1756–1763