John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott.

History of Frederick the Second online

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the Rubicon. And now he summoned all his energies - such energies as
the world has seldom, if ever, witnessed before, to carry out the
enterprise upon which he had so recklessly entered, and from which he
could not without humiliation withdraw.

On the 19th of February, 1741, Frederick, having been at home but three
weeks, again left Berlin with re-enforcements, increasing his army of
invasion to sixty thousand men, to complete the conquest of Silesia by
the capture of the three fortresses which still held out against him.
On the 21st he reached Glogau. After carefully reconnoitring the works,
he left directions with Prince Leopold of Dessau, who commanded the
Prussian troops there, to press the siege with all possible vigor. He
was fearful that Austrian troops might soon arrive to the relief of the

The king then hastened on to Schweidnitz, a few miles west from
Breslau. This was a small town, strongly fortified, about equally
distant from the three beleaguered fortresses - Neisse, Brieg, and
Glogau. The young monarch was daily becoming more aware that he had
embarked in an enterprise which threatened him with fearful peril.
He had not only failed to secure a single ally, but there were
indications that England and other powers were in secret deliberation
to join against him. He soon learned that England had sent a gift
or loan of a million of dollars - a large sum in those days - to
replenish the exhausted treasury of Maria Theresa. His minister in
Russia also transmitted to him an appalling rumor that a project was
in contemplation by the King of England, the King of Poland, Anne,
regent of Russia, and Maria Theresa, to unite, and so partition the
Prussian kingdom as to render the ambitious Frederick powerless to
disturb the peace of Europe. The general motives which influenced
the great monarchies in the stupendous war which was soon evolved are
sufficiently manifest. But these motives led to a complication of
intrigues which it would be alike tedious and unprofitable to attempt
to unravel.

Frederick wished to enlarge his Liliputian realms, and become one of
the powers of Europe. This he could only do by taking advantage of the
apparent momentary weakness of Austria, and seizing a portion of the
territory of the young queen. In order to accomplish this, it was for
his interest to oppose the election of Maria Theresa’s husband, the
Grand-duke Francis, as emperor. The imperial crown placed upon the
brow of Francis would invest Austria with almost resistless power.
Still, Frederick was ready to promise his earnest concurrence in this
arrangement if Maria Theresa would surrender to him Silesia. He had
even moderated his terms, as we have mentioned, to a portion of the

France had no fear of Prussia. Even with the addition of Silesia,
it would be comparatively a feeble realm. But France did fear the
supremacy of Austria over Europe. It was for the apparent interest
of the court of Versailles that Austria should be weakened, and,
consequently, that the husband of the queen should not be chosen
Emperor of Germany. Therefore France was coming into sympathy with
Frederick, and was disposed to aid him in his warfare against Austria.

England was the hereditary foe of France. It was one of the
leading objects in her diplomacy to circumvent that power. “Our
great-grandfathers,” writes Carlyle, “lived in perpetual terror that
they would be devoured by France; that French ambition would overset
the Celestial Balance, and proceed next to eat the British nation.”
Strengthening Austria was weakening France. Therefore the sympathies
of England were strongly with Austria. In addition to this, personal
feelings came in. The puerile little king, George II., hated implacably
his nephew, Frederick of Prussia, which hatred Frederick returned with

Spain was at war with England, and was ready to enter into an alliance
with any power which would aid her in her struggle with that formidable
despot of the seas.

The Czarina, Anne of Russia, died the 28th of October, 1740, just
eight days after the death of the emperor. She left, in the cradle,
the infant Czar Iwan, her nephew, two months old. The father of
this child was a brother of Frederick’s neglected wife Elizabeth.
The mother was the Russian Princess Catharine of Mecklenburg, now
called Princess Anne, whom Frederick had at one time thought of
applying for as his wife. Russia was a semi-barbaric realm just
emerging into consideration, and no one could tell by what influences
it would be swayed. The minor powers could be controlled by the
greater - constrained by terror or led by bribes. Such, in general, was
the state of Europe at this time.

Austria was rapidly marshaling her hosts, and pouring them through the
defiles of the mountains to regain Silesia. Her troops still held three
important fortresses - Neisse, Brieg, and Glogau. These places were,
however, closely blockaded by the Prussians. Though it was midwinter,
bands of Austrian horsemen were soon sweeping in all directions, like
local war tempests borne on the wings of the wind. Wherever there was
an unprotected baggage-train, or a weakly-defended post, they came
swooping down to seize their prey, and vanished as suddenly as they had
appeared. Their numbers seemed to be continually increasing. All the
roads were swept by these swarms of irregulars, who carefully avoided
any serious engagement, while they awaited the approach of the Austrian
army, which was gathering its strength to throw down to Frederick the
gauntlet on an open field of battle.

Much to Frederick’s chagrin, he soon learned that a body of three
hundred foot and three hundred horse, cautiously approaching through
by-paths in the mountains, had thrown itself into Neisse, to strengthen
the garrison there. This was on the 5th of March. But six days before
a still more alarming event had occurred. On the 27th of February,
Frederick, with a small escort, not dreaming of danger, set out to
visit two small posts in the vicinity of Neisse. He stopped to dine
with a few of his officers in the little village of Wartha, while the
principal part of the detachment which accompanied him continued its
movement to Baumgarten.


The leader of an Austrian band of five hundred dragoons was on the
watch. As the detachment of one hundred and fifty horse approached
Baumgarten, the Austrians, from their ambuscade, plunged upon them.
There was a short, sharp conflict, when the Prussians fled, leaving
ten dead, sixteen prisoners, one standard, and two kettle-drums in the
hands of the victors. The king had just sat down at the dinner-table,
when he heard, at the distance of a few miles, the tumult of the
musketry. He sprang from the table, hurriedly mustered a small force of
forty hussars and fifty foot, and hastened toward the scene. Arriving
at the field, he found it silent and deserted, and the ten men lying
dead upon it. The victorious Austrians, disappointed in not finding
the king, bore their spoils in triumph to Vienna. It was a very narrow
escape for Frederick. Had he then been captured it might have changed
the history of Europe, and no one can tell the amount of blood and woe
which would have been averted.

It is perhaps not strange that Frederick should have imbibed a strong
feeling of antipathy to Christianity. In his father’s life he had
witnessed only its most repulsive caricature. While making the loudest
protestations of piety, Frederick William, in his daily conduct,
had manifested mainly only every thing that is hateful and of bad
report. Still, it is quite evident that Frederick was not blind to the
distinction between the principles of Christianity as taught by Jesus
and developed in his life, and the conduct of those who, professing
his name, trampled those principles beneath their feet. In one of his
letters to Voltaire, dated Cirey, August 26, 1736, Frederick wrote:

“May you never be disgusted with the sciences by the quarrels of their
cultivators; a race of men no better than courtiers; often enough as
greedy, intriguing, false, and cruel as these.

“And how sad for mankind that the very interpreters of Heaven’s
commandments - the theologians, I mean - are sometimes the most
dangerous of all! professed messengers of the Divinity, yet men
sometimes of obscure ideas and pernicious behavior, their soul blown
out with mere darkness, full of gall and pride in proportion as it is
empty of truths. Every thinking being who is not of their opinion is
an atheist; and every king who does not favor them will be damned.
Dangerous to the very throne, and yet intrinsically insignificant.

“I respect metaphysical ideas. Rays of lightning they are in the midst
of deep night. More, I think, is not to be hoped from metaphysics. It
does not seem likely that the first principles of things will ever be
known. The mice that nestle in some little holes of an immense building
know not whether it is eternal, or who the architect, or why he built
it. Such mice are we. And the divine architect has never, that I know
of, told his secret to one of us.”

Notwithstanding these sentiments, the king sent throughout Silesia a
supply of sixty Protestant preachers, ordained especially for the
work. Though Frederick himself did not wish to live in accordance with
the teachings of Jesus Christ, it is very evident that he did not fear
the influence of that Gospel upon his Silesian subjects. Very wisely
the Protestant preachers were directed carefully to avoid giving any
offense to the Catholics. They were to preach in barns and town-halls
in places where there was no Protestant church. The salary of each
was one hundred and fifty dollars a year, probably with rations. They
were all placed under the general superintendence of one of the army

Every day it became more clear that Maria Theresa was resolved not to
part with one inch of her territory, and that the Austrian court was
thoroughly roused in its determination to drive the intrusive Prussians
out of Silesia. Though Frederick had no scruples of conscience to
prevent him from seizing a portion of the domains of Maria Theresa,
his astonishment and indignation were alike aroused by the rumor that
England, Poland, and Russia were contemplating the dismemberment of his
realms. An army of thirty-six thousand men, under the old Duke Leopold
of Dessau,[51] was immediately dispatched by Frederick to Götten, on
the frontiers of Hanover, to seize upon that Continental possession
of the King of England upon the slightest indication of a hostile
movement. George II. was greatly alarmed by this menace.

Frederick found himself plunged into the midst of difficulties and
perils which exacted to the utmost his energies both of body and of
mind. Every moment was occupied in strengthening his posts, collecting
magazines, recruiting his forces, and planning to circumvent the foe.
From the calm of Reinsberg he found himself suddenly tossed by the
surges of one of the most terrible tempests of conflict which a mortal
ever encountered. Through night and storm, almost without sleep and
without food, drenched and chilled, he was galloping over the hills
and through the valleys, climbing the steeples, fording the streams,
wading the morasses, involved in a struggle which now threatened even
the crown which he had so recently placed upon his brow. Had Frederick
alone suffered, but few tears of sympathy would have been shed in his
behalf; but his ambition had stirred up a conflict which was soon to
fill all Europe with the groans of the dying, the tears of the widow,
the wailings of the orphan.

Frederick deemed it of great importance to gain immediate possession
of Glogau. It was bravely defended by the Austrian commander, Count
Wallis, and there was hourly danger that an Austrian army might
appear for its relief. Frederick, in the intensity of his anxiety,
as he hurried from post to post, wrote from every stopping-place
to young Leopold, whom he had left in command of the siege, urging
him immediately to open the trenches, concentrate the fire of
his batteries, and to carry the place by storm. “I have clear
intelligence,” he wrote, “that troops are actually on the way for the
rescue of Glogau.” Each note was more imperative than the succeeding
one. On the 6th of March he wrote from Ohlau:

“I am certainly informed that the enemy will make some attempt. I
hereby, with all distinctness, command that, so soon as the petards are
come, you attack Glogau. And you must make your dispositions for more
than one attack, so that if one fail the other shall certainly succeed.
I hope you will put off no longer. Otherwise the blame of all the
mischief that might arise out of longer delay must lie on you alone.”

On the 8th of March Leopold summoned all his generals at noon, and
informed them that Glogau, at all hazards, must be taken that very
night. The most minute directions were given to each one. There were
to be three attacks - one up the river on its left bank, one down the
river on its right bank, and one on the land side perpendicular to the
other two. The moment the clock on the big steeple in Glogau should
give the first stroke of midnight, the three columns were to start.
Before the last stroke should be given they were all to be upon the
silent, rapid advance.

Count Wallis, who was intrusted with the defense of the place, had
a garrison of about a thousand men, with fifty-eight heavy guns and
several mortars, and a large amount of ammunition. Glogau was in the
latitude of fifty-two, nearly six degrees north of Quebec. It was a
cold wintry night. The ground was covered with snow. Water had been
thrown upon the glacis, so that it was slippery with ice. Prince
Leopold in person led one of the columns. The sentinels upon the walls
were not alarmed until three impetuous columns, like concentrating
tornadoes, were sweeping down upon them. They shouted “To arms!” The
soldiers, roused from sleep, rushed to their guns. Their lightning
flashes were instantly followed by war’s deepest thunders, as discharge
followed discharge in rapid succession.

But the assailants were already so near the walls that the shot
passed harmlessly over their heads. Without firing a gun or uttering
a sound, these well-drilled soldiers of Frederick William hewed down
the palisades, tore out the chevaux-de-frise, and clambered over the
glacis. With axe and petard they burst open the gates and surged into
the city.

In one short hour the gallant deed was done. But ten of the assailants
were killed and forty-eight wounded. The loss of the Austrians was
more severe. The whole garrison, one thousand sixty-five in number,
and their _materiel_ of war, consisting of fifty brass cannons,
a large amount of ammunition, and the military chest, containing
thirty-two thousand florins, fell into the hands of the victors. To the
inhabitants of Glogau it was a matter of very little moment whether the
Austrian or the Prussian banner floated over their citadel. Neither
party paid much more regard to the rights of the people than they did
to those of the mules and the horses.

But to Frederick the importance of the achievement was very great. The
exploit was justly ascribed to his general direction. Thus he obtained
a taste of that military renown which he had so greatly coveted. The
king was, at this time, at his head-quarters at Schweidnitz, about one
hundred and twenty miles from Glogau. A courier, dispatched immediately
from the captured town, communicated to him, at five o’clock in the
afternoon, the glad tidings of the brilliant victory.

Frederick was overjoyed. In the exuberance of his satisfaction, he
sent Prince Leopold a present of ten thousand dollars. To each private
soldier he gave half a guinea, and to the officers sums in proportion.
To the old Duke of Dessauer, father of the young Prince Leopold, he

[Illustration: THE ASSAULT ON GLOGAU.]

“The more I think of the Glogau business the more important I find it.
Prince Leopold has achieved the prettiest military stroke that has been
done in this century. From my heart I congratulate you on having such
a son. In boldness of resolution, in plan, in execution, it is alike
admirable, and quite gives a turn to my affairs.”

Leaving a sufficient force to garrison Glogau, the king ordered all
the remaining regiments to be distributed among the other important
posts; while Prince Leopold, in high favor, joined the king at
Schweidnitz, to assist in the siege of Neisse. Frederick rapidly
concentrated his forces for the capture of Neisse before the Austrian
army should march for its relief. He thought that the Austrians would
not be able to take the field before the snow should disappear and the
new spring grass should come, affording forage for their horses.


But General Neipperg, the Austrian commander-in-chief, proved as
watchful, enterprising, and energetic as Frederick. His scouting bands
swarmed in all directions. The Prussian foraging parties were cut off,
their reconnoitrers were driven back, and all the movements of the
main body of the Austrian army were veiled from their view. General
Neipperg, hearing of the fall of Glogau, decided, notwithstanding the
inclemency of the weather and the snow, to march immediately, with
thirty thousand men, to the relief of Neisse. His path led through
mountain defiles, over whose steep and icy roads his heavy guns and
lumbering ammunition-wagons were with difficulty drawn.

At the same time, Frederick, unaware of the movement of the Austrians,
prepared to push the siege of Neisse with the utmost vigor. Leaving
some of his ablest generals to conduct the operations there, Frederick
himself marched, with strong re-enforcements, to strengthen General
Schwerin, who was stationed among the Jagerndorf hills, on the southern
frontier of Silesia, to prevent the Austrians from getting across the
mountains. Marching from Ottmachau, the king met General Schwerin at
Neustadt, half way to Jagerndorf, and they returned together to that
place. But the swarming horsemen of General Neipperg were so bold
and watchful that no information could be obtained of the situation
or movements of the Austrian army. Frederick, seeing no indications
that General Neipperg was attempting to force his way through the
snow-encumbered defiles of the mountains, prepared to return, and, with
his concentrated force, press with all vigor the siege of Neisse.

As he was upon the point of setting off, seven Austrian deserters
came in and reported that General Neipperg’s full army was advancing
at but a few miles’ distance. Even as they were giving their report,
sounds of musketry and cannon announced that the Prussian outposts
were assailed by the advance-guard of the foe. The peril of Frederick
was great. Had Neipperg known the prize within his reach, the escape
of the Prussian king would have been almost impossible. Frederick had
but three or four thousand men with him at Jagerndorf, and only three
pieces of artillery, with forty rounds of ammunition. Bands of Austrian
cavalry on fleet horses were swarming all around him. Seldom, in the
whole course of his life, had Frederick been placed in a more critical

It was soon ascertained that the main body of the Austrian army was
fifteen miles to the southwest, at Freudenthal, pressing on toward
Neisse. General Neipperg, without the slightest suspicion that
Frederick was any where in his vicinity, had sent aside a reconnoitring
party of skirmishers to ascertain if there were any Prussians at
Jagerndorf. General Neipperg, at Freudenthal, was as near Neisse as
Frederick was at Jagerndorf.

There was not a moment to be lost. General Neipperg was moving
resolutely forward with a cloud of skirmishers in the advance and on
his wings. With the utmost exertions Frederick immediately rendezvoused
all his remote posts, destroying such stores as could not hastily be
removed, and by a forced march of twenty-five miles in one day reached
Neustadt. General Neipperg was marching by a parallel road about twenty
miles west of that which the Prussians traversed. At Neustadt the king
was still twenty miles from Neisse. With the delay of but a few hours,
that he might assemble all the Prussian bands from the posts in that
neighborhood, the king again resumed his march. He had no longer any
hope of continuing the siege of Neisse. His only aim was to concentrate
all his scattered forces, which had been spread over an area of nearly
two thousand square miles, and, upon some well-selected field, to trust
to the uncertain issues of a general battle. There was no choice left
for him between this course and an ignominious retreat.

Therefore, instead of marching upon Neisse, the king directed his
course to Steinau, twenty miles east of Neisse. The siege was
abandoned, and the whole Prussian army, so far as was possible, was
gathered around the king. On the 5th of April Frederick established his
head-quarters at Steinau. On that same day, General Neipperg, with the
advanced corps of his army, triumphantly entered Neisse. Apprehensive
of an immediate attack, Frederick made all his arrangements for a
battle. In the confusion of those hours, during which the whole
Prussian army, with all its vast accumulation of artillery and
baggage-wagons, was surging like an inundation through the streets of
Steinau, the village took fire and was burned to ashes. With great
difficulty the artillery and powder were saved, being entangled in the
narrow streets while the adjoining houses were enveloped in flames.
The night was intensely cold. The Prussian army bivouacked in the open
frozen fields.

General Neipperg, as his men were weary with their long march, did
not make an attack, but allowed his troops a short season of repose
in the enjoyment of the comforts of Neisse. The next morning, the
6th, Frederick continued his retreat to Friedland, ten miles farther
north. He was anxious to get between the Austrians and Ohlau. He
had many pieces of artillery there, and large stores of ammunition,
which would prove a rich prize to the Austrians. It was Frederick’s
intention to cross the River Neisse at a bridge at Sorgau, eight miles
from Friedland; but the officer in charge there had been compelled to
destroy the bridge, to protect himself from the Austrian horsemen,
who in large numbers had appeared upon the opposite banks. Prince
Leopold was sent with the artillery and a strong force to reconstruct
the bridge and force the passage, but the Austrian dragoons were
encountered in such numbers that the enterprise was found impossible.

Frederick therefore decided to march down the river twenty miles
farther, to Lowen, where there was a good bridge. To favor the
operation, Prince Leopold, with large divisions of the army and much
of the baggage, was to cross the Neisse on pontoons at Michelau, a
few miles above Lowen. Both passages were successfully accomplished,
and the two columns effected a junction on the west side of the river
on the 8th of April. The blockade of Brieg was abandoned, and its
blockading force united with the general army.

General Neipperg had now left Neisse; but he kept himself so surrounded
by clouds of skirmishers as to render his march entirely invisible.
Frederick, anxious to unite with him his troops under the Prince
of Holstein Beck, advanced toward Grottkau to meet that division,
which had been ordered to join him. The prince had been stationed at
Frankenstein, with a force of about eight thousand, horse and foot; but
the Austrian scouts so occupied all the roads that the king had not
been able to obtain any tidings from him whatever.

It was Saturday, the 8th of April. A blinding, smothering storm of snow
swept over the bleak plains. Breasting the gale, and wading through the
drifts, the Prussian troops tramped along, unable to see scarcely a rod
before them. At a little hamlet called Leipe the vanguard encountered a
band of Austrian hussars. They took several captives. From them they
learned, much to their chagrin and not a little to their alarm, that
the Austrian army was already in possession of Grottkau.


Instantly the Prussian troops were ordered to the right about.
Rapidly retracing their steps through the streets of Leipe, much to
the surprise of its inhabitants, they pressed on seven miles farther
toward Ohlau, and encamped for the night. The anxiety of Frederick in
these hours when he was retiring before the foe, and when there was

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 20 of 52)