The German-Danish war (1864)


The first conflict to break out after the creation of the Red Cross; the ICRC dispatches delegates to both sides of the front line and serves as neutral intermediary; first steps by national Red Cross societies.

 In the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, German and Danish interests conflicted; the duchies came under the Danish crown, but a large part of the population spoke German. In November 1863, the death of the King of Denmark, Frederick VII, sparked a dispute over the succession which led to the intervention of Prussia and Austria.
On 1 February 1864, the Austrian and Prussian armies invaded Denmark.
On 13 March 1864, the International Committee decided to send two delegates to the scene of the fighting: Dr Appia to the Austro-Prussian armies, and Captain Van de Velde (the Netherlands delegate to the 1863 Geneva Conference) to Denmark.
The delegates'instructions were:

  • to assist the wounded;
  • to study, on the spot, how the recommendations of the 1863 Geneva Conference were being or could be implemented.

The delegates were sent to both sides of the front to ensure impartiality; they carried letters of introduction from the International Committee and the Swiss government and each wore a white armband with a red cross. Dr Appia took part in an operation that was conducted between the front lines: the return of a Danish officer's body. Captain Van de Velde, for his part, visited Austrian and Prussian wounded and prisoners in Danish hands. From the outset, therefore, these two delegates played the role of impartial intermediaries, precisely the role of the ICRC.

Van de Velde also contacted an association in Copenhagen set up to assist the wounded and their families and he took steps to ensure that it was considered as one of the relief societies provided for in the resolutions of the 1863 Conference. This marked the founding of the Danish Red Cross.

On the Austro-Prussian front, the army accepted the assistance of volunteer doctors and nurses. Allied and enemy wounded were treated on an absolutely equal footing. The Prussian Red Cross, which had just been set up, sent considerable quantities of aid, and Dr Appia met its delegate on a number of occasions. He also informed the military doctor s about the contents of the resolutions of the Geneva Conference.



War over Schleswig-Holstein, 1864. Members of the Order of Saint John and Rauhe-Haus Friars collecting the wounded.  

War over Schleswig-Holstein, 1864. Members of the Order of Saint John and Rauhe-Haus Friars collecting the wounded.
© ICRC / hist-00072