The Austro-Prussian War of 1866 is noted as the second of Bismarck’s “great wars” in what would result in the unification of Germany as a solid nation state within the space of seven years. Its causes are directly rooted in the aftermath of the Second Schleswig War (1864) and in the division of the juicy new territories carved away from Denmark. The Prussian Chancellor, Bismarck, was keen to promote such animosity and conflict, with an eye on the formation of a north German state that would be dominated by Prussia. However, for these plans to come to fruition the Austrians needed to be dealt a sharp blow to knock their nose out of joint. As such, Bismarck played his diplomatic cards by attempting to isolate Austria in the international arena in case a war between the two powers should come about.
Such was the significance of the direction of all Germans, the war has obtained other titles, including that of German Civil War and my much preferred German Fraternal War. With Prussia and Austria at loggerheads the dozens upon dozens of duchies, states and principalities were forced to choose a side. The majority stumped with Austria, including the larger states of Bavaria and Saxony; Prussia was left with their possessions around Berlin and the western region given to her in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars a couple of generations earlier. But yet Prussia had a larger ace up her sleeve: the alliance with the freshly formed kingdom of Italy. The Italians had a large hatred towards Austrian dominance in the north of their country, and Bismarck made sure to strike up a deal that isolated the Austrians and had her faced with armies to both the north and south.
War was declared in June 1866 and it had largely been resolved by the defeat of the Austrians at the Battle of Sadowa in early July. But yet in the early weeks Austria enjoyed a couple of victories, as well as dominance against the Italians. However, her allies did little next to nothing, whilst the superior arms of the Prussians – famously deemed an army with a country – forced the Austrians to agree to an armistice. Luckily for Austria, by this point Italy – along with the world famous revolutionary Garibaldi – had started notching up victories. Bismarck was canny enough for peace to be reached to avoid the war spreading to become a continental one that might entangle the larger empires of France and Russia.
The result of this war? Austria was kept out of Germany and went to their licking their wounds. Having once been the major player of German affairs, their field of vision was turned southwards towards the Balkans. Furthermore, their influence within the Italian peninsula was ended, with the kingdom of Italy obtaining Venetia. The Austrian empire faced an identity crisis that would result in the Austria-Hungarian settlement of 1867. The lasting legacy would mean meddling by the Austrian empire in the affairs of the many ethnic minorities, including Serbians… and we all know where this led to (yes, I’m looking at you Gavrilo Pincip!).
As for Prussia, the defeat of the Austrians paved the way to a final show-down with the French. In the meantime they took full control of the German region and stated their intentions by setting up the North German Confederation under their leadership. Within four years Bismarck would be involved in the third and final of his wars, resulting in the creation of the empire of “blood and iron”: Germany.