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History of Frederick the Second online

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directly opposed to certain maxims in the _Anti-Machiavel_.”

Again M. Jordan wrote, a week later, on the 20th of December:

“The day before yesterday, in all churches, was prayer to Heaven for
success to your majesty’s arms, interest of the Protestant religion
being one cause of the war, or the only one assigned by the reverend
gentleman. At the sound of these words the zeal of the people kindles.
‘Bless God for raising such a defender! Who dared suspect our king’s
indifference to Protestantism?’”

On the 19th of December the king wrote, from the vicinity of Glogau, to
M. Jordan. Perhaps he would not so frankly have revealed his ambition
and his want of principle had he supposed that the private letter would
be exposed to the perusal of the whole civilized world.

“Seigneur Jordan,” the king writes, “thy letter has given me a great
deal of pleasure in regard to all these talkings thou reportest.
To-morrow I arrive at our last station this side of Glogau, which place
I hope to get in a few days. All things favor my designs; and I hope
to return to Berlin, after executing them, gloriously, and in a way
to be content with. Let the ignorant and the envious talk. It is not
they who shall ever serve as load-star to my designs; not they, but
glory. With the love of that I am penetrated more than ever. My troops
have their hearts big with it, and I answer to thee for success. Adieu!
dear Jordan. Write me all the ill the public says of thy friend, and be
persuaded that I love and will esteem thee always.”

To Voltaire the king wrote, in a very similar strain, four days later,
on the 23d of December:

“MY DEAR VOLTAIRE, - I have received two of your letters, but
could not answer sooner. I am like Charles Twelfth’s chess king,
who was always on the move. For a fortnight past we have been
kept continually afoot and under way in such weather as you never

“I am too tired to reply to your delightful verses, and shivering
too much with cold to taste all the charm of them. But that will
come round again. Do not ask poetry from a man who is actually
doing the work of a wagoner, and sometimes even of a wagoner
stuck in the mud. Would you like to know my way of life? We march
from seven in the morning till four in the afternoon. I dine
then; afterward I work - I receive tiresome visits; with these
comes a detail of insipid matters of business. ’Tis wrong-headed
men, punctiliously difficult, who are to be set right; heads
too hot which must be restrained, idle fellows that must be
urged, impatient men that must be rendered docile, plunderers
to be restrained within the bounds of equity, babblers to hear
babbling, dumb people to keep in talk; in fine, one has to drink
with those that like it, to eat with those who are hungry; one
has to become a Jew with Jews, a pagan with pagans. Such are my
occupations, which I would willingly make over to another if the
phantom they call glory did not rise on me too often. In truth,
it is a great folly, but a folly difficult to cast away when once
you are smitten by it.

“Adieu, my dear Voltaire! May Heaven preserve from misfortune the
man I should so like to sup with at night after fighting in the
morning. Do not forget the absent who love you.


As we have mentioned, the army advanced mainly in two columns. While
the left was briefly delayed at Glogau, the right, under the command
of General Schwerin, was pushed rapidly forward a few leagues, to
Liegnitz. They reached the city, unexpectedly to its inhabitants,
just at the dawn of a drear, chill winter’s morning, the rain having
changed to freezing cold. It was Wednesday, December 28. The Prussian
grenadiers stole softly upon the slumbering sentinels, seized them,
and locked them in the guard-house. Then the whole column marched into
the heart of the city silently, without music, but with a tramp which
aroused all the sleepers in the streets through which they passed - many
of whom, in their night-caps, peered curiously out of their
chamber windows. Having reached the central square, or market-place,
the forces were concentrated, and the drums and bugles pealed forth
notes of triumph. The Prussian flag rose promptly from rampart and
tower. Liegnitz was essentially a Protestant town. The inhabitants,
who had received but few favors from the Catholic Austrian government,
welcomed their invaders with cautious demonstrations of joy.

Frederick, having completed the investment of Glogau, cutting off all
its supplies, left a sufficient detachment there to starve the city
into submission. There were about seven thousand inhabitants within the
walls - “a much-enduring, frugal, pious, and very desirable people.”
As it was probable that the feeble garrison, after a brief show of
resistance, would surrender, Frederick hastened in person, with all his
remaining available troops, toward Breslau, the capital of Silesia. On
the 27th he wrote to M. Jordan:

“I march to-morrow for Breslau, and shall be there in four days. You
Berliners have a spirit of prophecy which goes beyond me. In fine, I
go my road; and you will shortly see Silesia ranked in the list of our
provinces. Adieu! this is all I have time to tell you. Religion and our
brave soldiers will do the rest.”

With almost unprecedented rapidity Frederick pressed his troops along,
accomplishing “in three marches near upon seventy miles.” The course of
the Oder here is, in its general direction, northwest. The army marched
along its southwestern banks. On Saturday evening, the last day of the
year, the advance-guard took possession of the southern and western
suburbs of Breslau. The city, of one hundred thousand inhabitants, was
spread out over both banks of the stream. Frederick established his
headquarters at the palace of Pilsnitz, about five miles from the city.
There were many Protestants in Breslau, who rejoiced in the idea of
exchanging a Catholic for a Protestant government. It is said that some
of the sentinels on the walls would watch their opportunity and present
arms to the Prussian soldiers, and even at times exclaim, “Welcome,
dear sirs!”

Before sunrise Sunday morning the Prussians had seized upon many
important posts. About seven o’clock a flag of truce, or rather a
trumpeter, approached one of the gates, demanding admittance to
communicate to the chief magistrate of the city the intentions and
requisitions of the Prussian king. After some delay, two colonels were
admitted. They demanded the entire surrender of the city, and that
the authority of Frederick, the King of Prussia, should be recognized
instead of that of Maria Theresa, Queen of Austria. All their local
laws and customs were to be respected, and they were to be protected
in all their rights and privileges. Their own garrison should guard
the city. No Prussian soldier should enter the gates with other than
side-arms. The king himself, in taking possession of the city, should
be accompanied by a body-guard of but thirty men. The city council was
assembled to consider this summons, and thirty hours were spent in
anxious deliberation.

In the mean time Frederick took positions which commanded the three
gates on his, the southern, side of the river; constructed a bridge
of boats; and sent four hundred men across the stream, and made
preparations to force an entrance. At four o’clock in the afternoon
of Monday, not a gun having yet been fired, a messenger brought the
intelligence that the town would be surrendered. At eight o’clock the
next morning, Tuesday, 3d of January, 1741, the city authorities came
in their coaches, with much parade, to welcome their new sovereign. It
was a bitter cold morning. The king had ridden away to reconnoitre the
walls in their whole circuit. It was not until near noon that he was
prepared to accompany the officials to the palace which was made ready
for him. He then, on horseback, attended by his principal officers,
and followed by an imposing retinue, in a grand entrance, proudly took
possession of his easy conquest. He rode a very magnificent gray
charger, and wore his usual cocked hat and a blue cloak, both of which
were somewhat the worse for wear. Four footmen, gorgeously dressed in
scarlet, trimmed with silver lace, walked by the side of his horse.
The streets through which he passed were thronged, and the windows and
balconies were crowded with spectators of both sexes. Though Frederick
did not meet with an enthusiastic reception, he was very gracious,
bowing to the people on each side of the street, and saluting with much
courtesy those who seemed to be people of note.

On the evening of the 5th his Prussian majesty gave a grand ball. All
the nobility, high and low, were invited. The provident king arranged
that the expenses, which he was to defray, should not exceed half a
guinea for each guest. Early hours were fashionable in those days.
Frederick entered the assembly-rooms at six o’clock, and opened the
ball with a Silesian lady. He was very complaisant, and walked through
the rooms with a smile upon his countenance, conversing freely with
the most distinguished of his guests. About ten o’clock he silently
withdrew, but the dancing and feasting continued until a late hour.

The king exerted all his powers of fascination to gain the affections
of the people. Though he dismissed all the Austrian public
functionaries, and supplied their places by his own friends, he
continued to the Catholics their ancient privileges, and paid marked
attention to the bishop and his clergy. At the same time, he encouraged
the Protestants with the expectation that he would prove their especial
friend. At the assemblies which he gave each evening that he was in the
city, he lavished his smiles upon the ladies who were distinguished
either for exalted rank or for beauty. But there is no evidence that,
during this campaign, he wrote one line to his absent, neglected wife,
or that he expended one thought upon her.

About thirty miles southeast of Breslau is the pleasant little town
of Ohlau, situated in the delta formed by the junction of the Ohlau
River with the Oder. It was a place of some strength, and the Austrian
authorities had thrown into it a garrison of three hundred men.
Frederick appeared before its gates on the morning of January the 9th.
He immediately sent in the following summons to the garrison:

“If you make any resistance, you shall be treated as prisoners of war.
If you make no resistance, and promise not to serve against us, you may
march out of the city unmolested, with your arms.”

The surrender was made. Fifteen miles nearly east from Ohlau, on the
southern banks of the Oder, is the little town of Brieg. Frederick
approached it with divisions of his army on both sides of the river.
The country was flat and densely wooded. On the southern side, where
Frederick marched with the major part of his troops, it was traversed
by an admirably paved road. This was constructed one hundred and
fifty-six years before by one of the dukes of that realm. It was a
broad highway, paved with massive flat stones, climbing the mountains,
threading the valleys, traversing the plains - a road such as those
which the Romans constructed, and over which the legions of the Cæsars
tramped in their tireless conquests. This duke, in consequence of his
religious character, was called “George the Pious.” His devotional
spirit may be inferred from the following inscription, in Latin,
which he had engraved on a very massive monument, constructed in
commemoration of the achievement:

“Others have made roads for us. We make them for posterity.
But Christ has opened for us all a road to heaven.”[46]

On the 11th, Brieg was summoned to surrender. The prompt and resolute
response was “_No_.” The place was found unexpectedly strong, and a
gallant little garrison of sixteen hundred men had been assembled
behind its walls. Frederick was much annoyed by the delay thus
occasioned. He promptly invested the city so as to cut off all
supplies, and dispatched an order to Glogau to have the field artillery
sent, as speedily as possible, up the Oder to Brieg.

Two days before Frederick reached Brieg, a column of his army, under
General Schwerin, which had advanced by a line parallel to the Oder,
but several miles to the west, encountering no opposition, reached
Ottmachau, a considerable town with a strong castle on the River
Neisse. This was near the extreme southern border of Silesia. The
Austrian commander, General Browne, had placed here also a garrison
of sixteen hundred men, with orders not to yield upon any terms, for
that re-enforcements should be speedily sent to them. A slight conflict
ensued. Twelve of the Prussians were killed. This was the first blood
which was shed. A delay of three days took place, when four cannon were
brought up, and the gates, both of the town and of the castle, were
blown open. The garrison offered to withdraw upon the terms proposed in
the summons to surrender. The king was sent for to obtain his decision.
He rebuked the garrison sternly, and held all as prisoners of war. The
officers were sent to Cüstrin, the common soldiers to Berlin.

Preparations were now made for the capture of Neisse. This was an
opulent, attractive, well-fortified town of about seven thousand
inhabitants. It then occupied only the left or north bank of the
stream, which runs from the west to the east. The region around, being
highly cultivated, presented a beautiful aspect of rich meadows,
orchards, and vineyards. It was the chief fortress of Southern Silesia,
and, being very near the frontier of Austria proper, was a position of
great importance. Frederick, having encountered so little opposition
thus far, was highly elated, expecting that Neisse would also
immediately fall into his hands. From Ottmachau he wrote, on the 14th
of January, to M. Jordan as follows:

“My dear Monsieur Jordan, my sweet Monsieur Jordan, my quiet Monsieur
Jordan, my good, my benign, my pacific, my most humane Monsieur
Jordan, - I announce to thy serenity the conquest of Silesia. I warn
thee of the bombardment of Neisse, and I prepare thee for still more
projects, and instruct thee of the happiest successes that the womb of
fortune ever bore.”[47]

Three days after, on the 17th, the king wrote again to M. Jordan:

“I have the honor to inform your humanity that we are Christianly
preparing to bombard Neisse; and that, if the place will not surrender
of good-will, needs must that it be beaten to powder. For the rest,
our affairs go the best in the world; and soon thou wilt hear nothing
more of us, for in ten days it will all be over, and I shall have the
pleasure of seeing you and hearing you in about a fortnight.

“I have seen neither my brother[48] nor Keyserling.[49] I left them at
Breslau, not to expose them to the dangers of war. They perhaps will be
a little angry, but what can I do? the rather as, on this occasion, one
can not share in the glory unless one is a mortar!

“Adieu; go and amuse yourself with Horace, study Pausanias, and be gay
over Anacreon. As to me, who for amusement have nothing but merlons,
fascines, and gabions, I pray God to grant me soon a pleasanter and
peacefuler occupation, and you health, satisfaction, and whatever your
heart desires.”

A letter of the same date as the above, addressed to Count
Algarotti,[50] contains the following expressions:

“I have begun to settle the figure of Prussia. The outline will be
altogether regular; for the whole of Silesia is taken in except one
miserable hamlet, which perhaps I shall have to keep blockaded until
next spring. Up to this time the whole conquest has cost me only twenty
men and two officers.

“You are greatly wanting to me here. In all these three hundred miles I
have found no human creature comparable to the Swan of Padua. I would
willingly give ten cubic leagues of ground for a genius similar to
yours. But I perceive I was about entreating you to return fast, and
join me again, while you are not yet arrived where your errand was.
Make haste to arrive then, to execute your commission, and fly back to
me. I wish you had a Fortunatus hat; it is the only thing defective in
your outfit.

“Adieu, dear Swan of Padua. Think, I pray, sometimes of those who are
getting themselves cut in slices for the sake of glory here; and, above
all, do not forget your friends who think a thousand times of you.”

The River Neisse is quite narrow. In preparation for the bombardment,
Frederick planted his batteries on the south side of the stream, and
also approached the city from the north. It will be remembered that
Frederick had an army in Silesia at his command of about forty thousand
men, abundantly provided with all the munitions of war. The little
Austrian garrison hurriedly thrown into Neisse consisted of but sixteen
hundred men, but poorly prepared either for battle or for siege. The
Austrian commandant, General Roth, determined upon a heroic resistance.
To deprive the assailants of shelter, the torch was applied to all
the beautiful suburbs. In a few hours the cruel flames destroyed the
labor of ages. Many once happy families were impoverished and rendered
homeless. Ashes, blackened walls, and smouldering ruins took the place
of gardens, villas, and comfortable homes.

On Sunday morning, January 15th, the deadly, concentric fire of shot
and shell was opened upon the crowded city, where women and children,
torn by war’s merciless missiles, ran to and fro frantic with terror.
The dreadful storm continued to rage, with but few intermissions,
until Wednesday. Still there were no signs of surrender. The king,
though his head-quarters were a few miles distant, at Ottmachau, was
almost constantly on the ground superintending every thing. As he felt
sure of the entire conquest of Silesia, the whole province being now
in his possession except three small towns, he looked anxiously upon
the destruction which his own balls and bombs were effecting. He was
destroying his own property.

On Wednesday morning General Borck was sent toward the gates of the
city, accompanied by a trumpeter, who, with bugle blasts, was to summon
General Roth to a parley. General Borck was instructed to inform the
Austrian commander that if he surrendered immediately he should be
treated with great leniency, but that if he persisted in his defense
the most terrible severity should be his doom. To the people of Neisse
it was a matter of but very little moment whether they were under
Austrian or Prussian domination. They would gladly accede to any terms
which would deliver them from the dreadful bombardment. General Roth,
therefore, would not allow what we should call the flag of truce to
approach the gates. He opened fire upon General Borck so as not to
wound him, but as a warning that he must approach no nearer. The king
was greatly angered by this result.

[Illustration: ATTACK UPON NEISSE.]

In burning the suburbs, one of the mansions of the bishop, a few miles
from Neisse, had escaped the general conflagration. The Prussians had
taken possession of this large and commodious structure, with its
ample supply of winter fuel. General Roth employed a resolute butcher,
who, under the pretense of supplying the Prussians with beef, visited
the bishop’s mansion, and secretly applied the torch. It was a cold
winter’s night. The high wind fanned the flames. Scarcely an hour
passed ere the whole structure, with all its supplies, was in ashes.
The Prussian officers who had found a warm home were driven into the
icy fields.

These two events so exasperated his Prussian majesty that the next
morning, at an early hour, he reopened upon the doomed city with
renewed vigor his fire of bombshells and red-hot shot. Fire companies
were organized throughout the city, to rush with their engines wherever
the glowing balls descended, and thus the flames which frequently burst
out were soon extinguished. All day Thursday, Thursday night, Friday,
and until nine in the morning of Saturday, the tempest of battle, with
occasional lulls, hurled its bolts and uttered its thunders. There was
then a short rest until four o’clock on Sunday afternoon, when the
batteries again opened their action more vigorously than ever, nine
bombs being often in the air at the same time.

Frederick, not willing utterly to destroy the city, which he wished
to preserve for himself, and perhaps, though no word of his indicates
it, influenced by some sympathy for the seven thousand unoffending
inhabitants of the place, men, women, and children, very many of whom
were Protestants, who were suffering far more from the missiles of
war than the Austrian garrison, arrested the fire of his batteries,
and decided to convert the siege into a blockade. His own troops were
suffering much in the bleak fields swept by the gales of winter. The
whole of Silesia was in his hands excepting the small towns of Brieg,
Glogau, and Neisse. These were so closely invested that neither food
nor re-enforcements could be introduced to them. Should they hold out
until spring, Frederick could easily then, aided by the warm weather,
break open their gates.

He therefore spread his troops abroad in winter quarters, levying
contributions upon the unhappy inhabitants of Silesia for their
support. The king, ever prompt in his movements, having on Monday, the
23d of January, converted the siege into a blockade, on Wednesday,
the 25th, set out for home. Visiting one or two important posts by
the way, he reached Berlin the latter part of the week. Here he was
received with great acclamations as a conquering hero. In six weeks he
had overrun Silesia, and had virtually annexed it to his own realms.
Whether Austria would quietly submit to this robbery, and whether
Frederick would be able to retain his conquest, were questions yet to
be decided.



Embarrassments of Frederick. - Attempts a Compromise. - New Invasion
of Silesia. - Intrigues for the Imperial Crown. - Rivalry between
England and France. - Death of Anne of Russia. - Energy of
Austria. - Narrow Escape of Frederick. - Frederick’s Antipathy to
Christianity. - Capture of Glogau. - Peril of Frederick. - The Siege
of Neisse.

Frederick, returning to Berlin from his six weeks’ campaign in Silesia,
remained at home but three weeks. He had recklessly let loose the dogs
of war, and must already have begun to be appalled in view of the
possible results. His embassadors at the various courts had utterly
failed to secure for him any alliance. England and some of the other
powers were manifestly unfriendly to him. Like Frederick himself, they
were all disposed to consult merely their own individual interests.
Thus influenced, they looked calmly on to see how Frederick, who had
thrown into the face of the young Queen of Austria the gage of battle,
would meet the forces which she, with great energy, was marshaling in
defense of her realms. Frederick was manifestly and outrageously in the

The chivalry of Europe was in sympathy with the young and beautiful
queen, who, inexperienced, afflicted by the death of her father, and
about to pass through the perils of maternity, had been thus suddenly
and rudely assailed by one who should have protected her with almost
a brother’s love and care. Every court in Europe was familiar with
the fact that the father of Maria Theresa had not only humanely
interceded, in the most earnest terms, for the life of Frederick, but
had interposed his imperial authority’ to rescue him from the scaffold,
with which he was threatened by his unnatural parent. Frederick found
that he stood quite alone, and that he had nothing to depend upon but
his own energies and those of his compact, well-disciplined army.

It would seem that Frederick was now disposed to compromise. He
authorized the suggestion to be made to the court at Vienna by his
minister, Count Gotter, that he was ready to withdraw from his
enterprise, and to enter into alliance with Austria, if the queen would
surrender to him the duchy of Glogau only, which was but a small part
of Silesia. But to these terms the heroic young queen would not listen.
She justly regarded them but as the proposition of the highway robber,
who offers to leave one his watch if he will peaceably surrender his
purse. Whatever regrets Frederick might have felt in view of the
difficulties in which he found himself involved, not the slightest
indication of them is to be seen in his correspondence. He had passed

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 19 of 52)