At the outset of the war in June, the Prussian armies were gathered along the Prussian border: the Army of the Elbe under
Karl Herwarth von Bittenfeld at
Torgau, the First Army under
Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia between
Görlitz, and the Second Army under
Crown Prince Friedrich in
Silesia west of
Neiße (Nysa). The Austrian army under
Ludwig von Benedek was concentrated at
Olmütz (Olomouc). The campaign began with Herwath von Bittenfeld's advance to
Dresden in the
Kingdom of Saxony, where he easily defeated the Saxon army of 23,000 and joined with the First Army.
The reluctant Austrian commander Benedek had moved his troops out of their staging point at Olmütz only on 18 June, moving north in three parallel columns with the I Corps protecting the right flank. The Austrians took up positions at the fortress
Josefstadt and the mountain passes from Saxony and Silesia.
On 22 June, Prussia's Chief of the General Staff,
Helmuth von Moltke, ordered both armies under his command to
Jitschin (Jičín) near the Austrian positions, a daring maneuver undertaken to limit the war's duration despite the risk of one army being overtaken en route.
Fortunately for Prussia, Benedek was indecisive and failed to use his superior numbers to eliminate the Prussian armies individually. Initially, the Austrians were pressed back everywhere except at
Trautenau (Trutnov), where they bested the Prussians despite great losses to their own forces. By 29 June, Prince Friedrich Karl had reached Jitschin and inflicted a severe defeat on the Austrian I Corps under General
Clam-Gallas. The Crown Prince had reached
Königinhof (Dvůr Králové) despite stiff resistance.
On 30 June, Friedrich Karl's First Army advanced to within one day's march of the Second Army. However, for the next two days the Prussian cavalry lost sight of the Austrians entirely, although Moltke's guess as to their actions—a retreat to the
Elbe River—proved correct.