1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Benedek, Ludwig, Ritter von
BENEDEK, LUDWIG, Ritter von (1804–1881), Austrian general, was born at Ödenburg in Hungary on the 14th of July 1804, his father being a doctor. He received his commission in the Austrian army as ensign in 1822, becoming lieutenant in 1825, first lieutenant in 1831 and captain in 1835. He was employed for a considerable time in the general staff, and had risen to the rank of colonel, when he won his first laurels in the suppression of the rising of 1846 in Galicia (see Austria: History). In this campaign his bold leadership in the field and his capacity for organization were so far conspicuous that he was made a Ritter (knight) of the Leopold order by his sovereign, and a freeman (Ehrenbürger) by the city of Lemberg. In 1847 he commanded a regiment in Italy, and on the outbreak of war with Sardinia he was placed in command of a mixed brigade, at the head of which he displayed against regular troops the same qualities of unhesitating bravery and resolution which had given him the victory in many actions with the Galician rebels. His conduct at Curtatone won for him the commandership of the Leopold order, and shortly afterwards the knighthood of the Maria Theresa order. At the action of Mortara his tactical skill and bravery were again conspicuous, and Radetzky particularly distinguished him in despatches. The archduke Albert, with whom he served, is said to have given him the sword of his father, the great archduke Charles. He was promoted major-general soon afterwards over the heads of several colonels senior to him, and was sent as a brigade commander to Hungary. Again he was distinguished as a fighting general at Raab, Komorn, Szegedin and many other actions, and was three times wounded. Benedek then received the cross for military merit, and soon afterwards was posted to the staff of the army in Italy. In 1852 he was made lieutenant field marshal, and in 1857 commander successively of the II., the IV. and the VIII. corps, and also a Geheimrath. In the political crisis of 1854 he had command of a corps in the army of observation under Hess on the Turkish frontier. In the war of 1859 in Italy, Benedek commanded the VIII. corps, and at the battle of Solferino was in command of the right of the Austrian position. That portion of the struggle which was fought out between Benedek and the Piedmontese army is sometimes called the battle of San Martino. Benedek, with magnificent gallantry, held his own all day, and in the end covered the retreat of the rest of the Austrian army to the Mincio. His reward was the commandership of the order of Maria Theresa, and Vienna and many other cities followed the example of Lemberg in 1846. His reputation was now at its highest, and his great popularity was enhanced, in the prevailing discontent with the reactionary and clerical government of previous years, by the fact that he was a Protestant and not of noble birth. He was promoted Feldzeugmeister and in 1860 appointed quartermaster-general to the army, and soon afterwards governor-general and commander-in-chief in Hungary, in succession to the archduke Albert. In 1861 he was made commander-in-chief in Venetia and the adjoining provinces of the empire, and in the following year he received the grand cross of the Leopold order. In 1864 he resigned the quartermaster-generalship and devoted himself exclusively to the command of the army in Italy. In 1861 he had been made a life-member of the house of peers. In 1866 war with Prussia and with Italy became imminent. Benedek was appointed to command the Army of the North against the Prussians, the control of affairs in Italy being taken over by the archduke Albert. For the story of the campaign of Königgrätz, in which the Austrians under Benedek’s command were decisively defeated, see Seven Weeks’ War. Benedek took over his new command as a stranger to the country and to the troops. Only the personal command of the emperor and the requests of the archduke Albert prevailed upon him to “sacrifice his honour,” as he himself said, in a task for which he felt himself ill prepared. When he took the field his despondency was increased by the passive obstruction which he met with amongst his own officers, many of whom resented being placed under a man of the middle class instead of the archduke Albert, and by the general state of unpreparedness which he found existing at the front. Further, his own staff was self-willed to the verge of disloyalty, and his assistants, Lieutenant Field Marshal von Henikstein, and Major-General Krismanic in particular, endeavoured to control Benedek’s operations in the spirit of the 18th-century strategists. Under these circumstances, and against the superior numbers, moral and armament of the Prussians, the Austrians were foredoomed to defeat. A series of partial actions convinced Benedek that success was unattainable, and he telegraphed to the emperor advising him to make peace; the emperor refused on the ground that no decisive battle had been fought; Benedek, thereupon, instead of retreating across the Elbe, determined to bring on a decisive engagement, and took up a position with the whole of his forces near Königgrätz with the Elbe in his rear. Here he was completely defeated by the Prussians on the 3rd of July, but they could not prevent him from making good his retreat over the river in magnificent order on the evening of the battle. He conducted the operations of his army in retreat up to the great concentration at Vienna under the archduke Albert, and was then suspended from his command and a court-martial ordered; the emperor, however, in December determined that the inquiry should be stopped. Benedek from this time lived in absolute retirement, and having given his word of honour to the archduke Albert that he would not attempt to rehabilitate himself before the world, he published no defence of his conduct, and even destroyed his papers relating to the campaign of 1866. This attitude of self-sacrificing loyalty he maintained even when on the 8th of November 1866 the official Wiener Zeitung published an article in which he was made responsible for all the disasters of the war. The history of the campaign from the Austrian point of view as at present known leaves much unexplained, and the published material is primarily of a controversial character. The official Österreichs Kämpfe speaks of the unfortunate general in the following terms: “A career full of achievements, distinction and fame deserved a less tragic close. A dispassionate judgment will not forget the ever fortunate and successful deeds which he accomplished earlier in the service of the emperor, and will ensure for him, in spite of his last heavy misfortune (Last), an honourable memory.” Praise of his earlier career could not well be denied, and the official history is careful not to extend its eulogy to cover the events of 1866; the recognition in these words cannot therefore be set against the general opinion of subsequent critics that Benedek was the victim of political necessities, perhaps of court intrigues. For the rest of his life Benedek lived at Graz, where he died on the 27th of April 1881.
See H. Friedjung, Benedeks nachgelassene Papiere (Leipzig, 1901, 3rd and enlarged ed., 1904), and Der Kampf um die Vorherrschaft in Deutschland 1859–1866 (Stuttgart, 1897, 6th ed., 1904); v. Schlichtling, Moltke und Benedek (Berlin, 1900), also therewith A. Krauss, Moltke, Benedek und Napoleon (Vienna, 1901); and a roman à clé by Gräfin Salburg, entitled Königsglaube (Dresden, 1906). The brief memoir in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie represents the court view of Benedek’s case.