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

History of Frederick the Second online

. (page 27 of 52)
Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 27 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


charity so far as often to make the rich understand that it is
more blessed to give than to receive; possessing perfectly the
anecdotes of our various mansions, especially of our worn-out
furnitures, rendering himself by his merits necessary to those
who know him, and, with a very bad head, having a very good heart.

“Our anger the said Baron Pöllnitz never kindled but once.[74]
But as the loveliest countries have their barren spots, the most
beautiful forms their imperfections, pictures by the greatest
masters their faults, we are willing to cover with the veil of
oblivion those of the said baron. We do hereby grant him, with
regret, the leave of absence he requires, and abolish his office
altogether, that it may be blotted from the memory of man, not
judging that any one, after the said baron, can be worthy to fill
it.

“FREDERICK.

“Potsdam, April 1, 1744.”

No man of kindly sympathies could have thus wantonly wounded the
feelings of a poor old man who had, according to his capacity, served
himself, his father, and his grandfather, and who was just dropping
into the grave. A generous heart would have forgotten the foibles, and,
remembering only the virtues, would have spoken words of cheer to the
world-weary heart, seeking a sad refuge in the glooms of the cloister.
It must be confessed that Frederick often manifested one of the worst
traits in human nature. He took pleasure in inflicting pain upon others.




CHAPTER XIX.

THE INVASION OF BOHEMIA.

Correspondence between Frederick and Voltaire. - Voltaire’s Visit to
Frederick. - Domestic Habits of the King. - Unavailing Diplomacy
of Voltaire. - The New Alliance. - The Renewal of War. - The Siege
of Prague. - The Advance upon Vienna. - Darkening Prospects. - The
Pandours. - Divisions in Council. - Sickness of Louis XV. - Energy of
Frederick. - Distress of the Army.


The correspondence carried on between Frederick and Voltaire, and their
mutual comments, very clearly reveal the relations existing between
these remarkable men. Frederick was well aware that the eloquent pen of
the great dramatist and historian could give him celebrity throughout
Europe. Voltaire was keenly alive to the consideration that the
friendship of a monarch could secure to him position and opulence. And
yet each privately spoke of the other very contemptuously, while in
the correspondence which passed between them they professed for each
other the highest esteem and affection. Frederick wrote from Berlin as
follows to Voltaire:

“October 7, 1743.

“MY DEAR VOLTAIRE, - France has been considered thus far as the
asylum of unfortunate monarchs. I wish that my capital should
become the temple of great men. Come to it, then, my dear
Voltaire, and give whatever orders can tend to render a residence
in it agreeable to you. My wish is to please you, and wishing
this, my intention is to enter entirely into your views.

“Choose whatever apartment in our house you like. Regulate
yourself all that you want, either for comfort or luxury. Make
your arrangements in such a way as that you may be happy and
comfortable, and leave it to me to provide for the rest. You
will be always entirely free, and master to choose your own way
of life. My only pretension is to enchain you by friendship and
kindness.

“You will have passports for the post-horses, and whatever else
you may ask. I hope to see you on Wednesday. I shall then profit
by the few moments of leisure which remain to me, to enlighten
myself by the blaze of your powerful genius. I entreat you to
believe I shall always be the same toward you. Adieu.”

Voltaire has given a detailed account of the incidents connected with
this visit to his Prussian majesty. It is a humiliating exhibition of
the intrigues and insincerity which animated the prominent actors in
those scenes.

“The public affairs in France,” writes Voltaire, “continued in as bad
a state after the death of Cardinal De Fleury as during the last two
years of his administration. The house of Austria rose again from its
ashes. France was cruelly pressed upon by that power and by England. No
other resource remained to us but the chance of regaining the King of
Prussia, who, having drawn us into the war, had abandoned us as soon as
it was convenient to himself so to do. It was thought advisable, under
these circumstances, that I should be sent to that monarch to sound his
intentions, and, if possible, persuade him to avert the storm which,
after it had first fallen on us, would be sure, sooner or later, to
fall from Vienna upon him. We also wished to secure from him the loan
of a hundred thousand men, with the assurance that he could thus better
secure to himself Silesia.

“The minister for foreign affairs was charged to hasten my departure.
A pretext, however, was necessary. I took that of my quarrel with the
Bishop Mirepoix. I wrote accordingly to the King of Prussia that I
could no longer endure the persecutions of this monk, and that I should
take refuge under the protection of a philosophical sovereign, far from
the disputes of this bigot. When I arrived at Berlin the king lodged me
in his palace, as he had done in my former journeys. He then led the
same sort of life which he had always done since he came to the throne.
He rose at five in summer and six in winter.[75] A single servant came
to light his fire, to dress and shave him. Indeed, he dressed himself
almost without any assistance. His bedroom was a handsome one. A rich
and highly ornamented balustrade of silver inclosed apparently a bed
hung with curtains, but behind the curtains, instead of a bed, there
was a library. As for the royal couch, it was a wretched truckle-bed,
with a thin mattress, behind a screen, in one corner of the room.
Marcus Aurelius and Julian, his favorite heroes, and the greatest men
among the Stoics, were not worse lodged.”

The king devoted himself very energetically to business during the
morning, and reviewed his troops at eleven o’clock. He dined at twelve.

“After dinner,” writes Voltaire, “the king retired alone into his
cabinet, and made verses till five or six o’clock. A concert commenced
at seven, in which the king performed on the flute as well as the best
musician. The pieces of music executed were also often of the king’s
composition. On the days of public ceremonies he exhibited great
magnificence. It was a fine spectacle to see him at table, surrounded
by twenty princes of the empire, served on the most beautiful gold
plate in Europe, and attended by thirty handsome pages, and as many
young heyducs, superbly dressed, and carrying great dishes of massive
gold. After these banquets the court attended the opera in the great
theatre, three hundred feet long. The most admirable singers and the
best dancers were at this time in the pay of the King of Prussia.”

Voltaire seems to have formed a very different estimate of his own
diplomatic abilities from those expressed by the King of Prussia.
Voltaire writes:

“In the midst of fêtes, operas, and suppers, my secret negotiation
advanced. The king allowed me to speak to him on all subjects. I often
intermingled questions respecting France and Austria in conversations
relating to the Æneid and Livy. The discussion was sometimes very
animated. At length the king said to me, ‘Let France declare war
against England, and I will march.’ This was all I desired. I returned
as quickly as possible to the court of France. I gave them the same
hopes which I had myself been led to entertain at Berlin, and which did
not prove delusive.”

The fact was, that the diplomacy of Voltaire had probably not the
slightest influence in guiding the action of the king. Frederick had
become alarmed in view of the signal successes of the armies of Maria
Theresa, under her brother-in-law, Prince Charles of Lorraine. Several
Austrian generals, conspicuous among whom was Marshal Traun, were
developing great military ability. The armies of Austria had conquered
Bohemia and Bavaria. The French troops, discomfited in many battles,
had been compelled to retreat to the western banks of the Rhine,
vigorously pursued by Prince Charles. The impotent emperor Charles
Albert, upon whom France had placed the imperial crown of Germany, was
driven from his hereditary realm, and the heart-broken man, in poverty
and powerlessness, was an emperor but in name. It was evident that
Maria Theresa was gathering her strength to reconquer Silesia. She had
issued a decree that the Elector of Bavaria was not legitimately chosen
emperor. It was very manifest that her rapidly increasing influence
would soon enable her to dethrone the unfortunate Charles Albert, and
to place the imperial crown upon the brow of her husband.

Under these circumstances, it was evidently impossible for Frederick
to retain Silesia unless he could again rally France and other powers
to his aid. It was always easy to rouse France against England, its
hereditary foe. Thus influenced, Frederick, early in the spring of
1744, entered into a new alliance with France and the Emperor Charles
Albert against Maria Theresa. The two marriages which he had so
adroitly consummated constrained Russia and Sweden to neutrality.
While France, by the new treaty, was engaged to assail with the utmost
energy, under the leadership of Louis XV. himself, the triumphant
Austrian columns upon the Rhine, Frederick, at the head of one hundred
thousand troops, was to drive the Austrians out of Bohemia, and reseat
Charles Albert upon his hereditary throne. For this service Frederick
was to receive from the Bohemian king three important principalities,
with their central fortresses near upon the borders of Silesia.

The shrewd foresight of Frederick, and his rapidly developing military
ability, had kept his army in the highest state of discipline, while
his magazines were abundantly stored with all needful supplies. It was
written at the time:

“Some countries take six months, some twelve, to get in motion for war.
But in three weeks Prussia can be across the frontiers and upon the
throats of its enemy. Some countries have a longer sword than Prussia,
but none can unsheath it so soon.”

Public opinion was then much less potent than now; still it was a
power. Frederick had two objects in view in again drawing the sword.
One was to maintain possession of Silesia, which was seriously menaced;
the other was to enlarge his territory, and thus to strengthen his
hold upon his new conquest, by adding to Prussia the three important
Bohemian principalities of Königgratz, Bunzlau, and Leitmeritz. By
a secret treaty, he had secured the surrender of these provinces in
payment for the assistance his armies might furnish the allies; but
policy required that he should not avow his real motives. He therefore
issued a manifesto, in which he falsely stated,

“His Prussian majesty requires nothing for himself. He has taken up
arms simply and solely with the view of restoring to the empire its
freedom, to the emperor his imperial crown, and to all Europe the peace
which is so desirable.”

Frederick published his manifesto on the 10th of August, 1744. Early in
the morning of the 15th he set out from Potsdam upon this new military
expedition. His two eldest brothers, Augustus William, Prince of
Prussia, and Prince Henry, accompanied him. The army entered Bohemia in
three columns, whose concentrated force amounted to nearly one hundred
thousand men. Frederick in person led the first column, the old
Prince Leopold the second, and Marshal Schwerin the third. Marching by
different routes, they swept all opposition before them. On the 4th
of September the combined army appeared before the walls of Prague.
Here, as in every act of Frederick’s life, his marvelous energy was
conspicuous.

The works were pushed with the utmost vigor. On the 8th the siege
cannon arrived; late in the night of Wednesday, the 9th, they were in
position. Immediately they opened their rapid, well-aimed, deadly fire
of solid shot and shell from three quarters - the north, the west, and
the east. Frederick, watching the bombardment from an eminence, was
much exposed to the return fire of the Austrians. He called upon others
to take care of themselves, but seemed regardless of his own personal
safety. His cousin, Prince William, and a page, were both struck down
at his side by a cannon-ball.

On the 16th the battered, smouldering, blood-stained city was
surrendered, with its garrison of sixteen thousand men. The prisoners
of war were marched off to Frederick’s strong places in the north.
Prague was compelled to take the oath of allegiance to the emperor, and
to pay a ransom of a million of dollars. Abundant stores of provision
and ammunition were found in the city. It was a brilliant opening of
the campaign.

The impetuous Frederick made no delay at Prague. The day after the
capture, leaving five thousand men, under General Einsiedel, to
garrison the city, he put his troops in motion, ascending the right
bank of the Moldau. It would seem that he was about to march boldly
upon Vienna. Wagons of meal, drawn by oxen, followed the army. The
heavy artillery was left behind. The troops were forced along as
rapidly as possible. They advanced in two columns. One was led by
Frederick, and the other by young Leopold. The country through which
they passed was dreary, desolate, barren in the extreme - a wild
waste of precipitous rocks, and bogs, and tangled forest. The roads
were wretched. No forage could be obtained. The starved oxen were
continually dropping, exhausted, by the way; the path of the army was
marked by their carcasses.

It was but sixty miles from Prague to Tabor. The march of Frederick’s
division led through Kunraditz, across the Sazawa River, through
Bistritz and Miltchin. It was not until the ninth day of their
toilsome march that the steeples of Tabor were descried, in the distant
horizon, on its high, scarped rock. Here both columns united. Half of
the draught cattle had perished by the way, and half of the wagons had
been abandoned.

[Illustration: THE PANDOURS.]

The prospects of Frederick were now gloomy. The bright morning of the
campaign had darkened into a stormy day. The barren region around
afforded no supplies. The inhabitants were all Catholics; they
hated the heretics. Inspired by their priests, they fled from their
dwellings, taking with them or destroying every thing which could
aid the Prussian army. But most annoying of all, the bold, sagacious
chieftain, General Bathyani, with hordes of Pandours which could not
be counted - horsemen who seemed to have the vitality and endurance of
centaurs - was making deadly assaults upon every exposed point.

“Such a swarm of hornets as darkens the very daylight!” writes Carlyle.
“Vain to scourge them down, to burn them off by blaze of gunpowder;
they fly fast, but are straightway back again. They lurk in these
bushy wildernesses, scraggy woods; no foraging possible unless whole
regiments are sent out to do it; you can not get a letter safely
carried for them.”

Thus Frederick found himself in a barren, hostile country, with a
starving army, incessantly assailed by a determined foe, groping
his way in absolute darkness, and with the greatest difficulty
communicating even with his own divisions, at the distance of but a few
leagues. He knew not from what direction to anticipate attack, or how
formidable might be his assailants. He knew not whether the French, on
the other side of the Rhine, had abandoned him to his own resources,
or were marching to his rescue. He knew that they were as supremely
devoted to their own interests as he was to his, and that they would do
nothing to aid him, unless by so doing they could efficiently benefit
themselves.

As is usual under such circumstances, a quarrel arose among his
officers. Young Leopold proposed one plan, Marshal Schwerin another.
They were both bold, determined men. Frederick found it difficult
to keep the peace between them. It was now October. Winter, with
its piercing gales, and ice, and snow, was fast approaching. It was
necessary to seek winter quarters. Frederick, with the main body of his
army, took possession of Budweis, on the Upper Moldau. A detachment was
stationed at Neuhaus, about thirty miles northeast of Budweis.

It will be remembered that Prince Charles was at the head of a strong
Austrian army, on the western banks of the Rhine. It numbered over
fifty thousand combatants. The King of France had pledged himself to
press them closely, so that they could not recross the Rhine and rush
into Bohemia to thwart the operations of Frederick; but, unfortunately,
Louis XV. was seized with a malignant fever, which brought him near
to the grave. Taking advantage of this, Prince Charles, on the night
of the 23d of August, crossed the Rhine with his whole army. It was
bright moonlight, so that every movement was as visible as if it had
been made by day. But the French officers, glad thus to be rid of the
Austrian army, preferring much that Frederick should encounter it in
Bohemia than that they should struggle against it on the Rhine, went
quietly to their beds, even forbidding the more zealous subalterns from
harassing Prince Charles in his passage of the river. It was then the
great object of the French to take Freyburg. The withdrawal of Prince
Charles, with his fifty thousand men, was a great relief to them.

While Frederick was involved in all these difficulties, he was cheered
by the hope that the French would soon come to his rescue. Unutterable
was his chagrin when he learned, early in October, that the French had
done exactly as he would have done in their circumstances. Appalling,
indeed, were the tidings soon brought to him, that Prince Charles, with
his army, had marched unmolested into Bohemia; that he had already
effected a junction with General Bathyani and his countless swarm of
Pandours; and, moreover, that a Saxon army, twenty thousand strong, in
alliance with the Queen of Hungary, was on the way to join his already
overwhelming foes. It was reported, at the same time, that Prince
Charles was advancing upon Budweis, and that his advance-guard had been
seen, but a few miles off, on the western side of the Moldau.

The exigency demanded the most decisive action. Frederick promptly
gathered his army, and dashed across the Moldau, resolved, with the
energies of despair, to smite down the troops of Prince Charles; but no
foe could be found. For four days he sought for them in vain. He then
learned that the Austrian army had crossed the Moldau several miles
north of him, thus cutting off his communications with Prague.

Though Prince Charles was nominally commander-in-chief of the Austrian
forces, Marshal Traun, as we have mentioned, was its military head.
He was, at that time, far Frederick’s superior in the art of war.
Frederick had sufficient intelligence and candor to recognize that
superiority. When he heard of this adroit movement of his foes, he
exclaimed, “Old Traun understands his trade.”

Prince Charles was now forming magazines at Beneschau, just south of
the Sazawa River, about seventy miles north of Frederick’s encampment
at Budweis. Frederick hastily recrossed the Moldau, and, marching
through Bechin, concentrated nearly all his forces at Tabor. He hoped
by forced marches to take the Austrians by surprise, and capture their
magazines at Beneschau. Thousands, rumor said fourteen thousand, of
the wild Pandours, riding furiously, hovered around his line of march.
They were in his front, on his rear, and upon his flanks. Ever refusing
battle, they attacked every exposed point with the utmost ferocity. The
Prussian king thus found himself cut off from Prague, with exhausted
magazines, and forage impossible. He had three hundred sick in his
hospitals. He could not think of abandoning them, and yet he had no
means for their transportation.

The salvation of the army seemed to depend upon capturing the Austrian
magazines at Beneschau. Marshal Schwerin was sent forward with all
speed, at the head of a strong detachment, and was so lucky as to take
Beneschau. Here he intrenched himself. Frederick, upon hearing the
glad tidings, immediately started from Tabor to join him. His sick
were at Fraunberg, Budweis, and Neuhaus, some dozen miles south of
Tabor. Garrisons, amounting to three thousand men, had been left to
protect them from the Pandours. As Frederick was about to abandon that
whole region, it was manifest that these garrisons could not maintain
themselves. He dispatched eight messengers in succession to summon
the troops immediately to join him. The sick were to be left to their
fate. It was one of the cruel necessities of war. But not one of these
messengers escaped capture by the Pandours. Frederick commenced his
march without these garrisons. The three thousand fighting men, with
the three hundred sick, all fell into the hands of the Pandours.




CHAPTER XX.

THE RETREAT.

The Retreat ordered. - Awful Suffering. - Narrow Escape of the King. -
The Flight from Prague. - Military Mistakes of the King. - Frederick
returns to Berlin. - His wonderful administrative Ability. - Poland
joins Austria. - The Austrians enter Silesia. - Unreasonable Demands
of Frederick. - Humiliation of the King. - Prince Charles and his
Bride. - Character of Leopold. - Death of the Emperor. - Bavaria
turns against Frederick. - Anecdotes of Prince Leopold. - Peril of
Frederick. - Battle of Hohenfriedberg. - Signal Victory of Frederick.


Frederick concentrated his army at Konopischt, very near Beneschau.
He could bring into the field sixty thousand men. Prince Charles was
at the head of seventy thousand. In vain the Prussian king strove to
bring his foes to a pitched battle. Adroitly Prince Charles avoided
any decisive engagement. Frederick was fifty miles from Prague. The
roads were quagmires. November gales swept his camp. A foe, superior
in numbers, equal in bravery, surrounded him on all sides. The hostile
army was led by a general whose greater military ability Frederick
acknowledged.

A council of war was held. It was decided to commence an immediate and
rapid retreat to Silesia. Prague, with its garrison of five thousand
men, and its siege artillery, was to be abandoned to its fate. Word
was sent to General Einsiedel to spike his guns, blow up his bastions,
throw his ammunition into the river, and to escape, if possible, down
the valley of the Moldau, to Leitmeritz.

Frederick divided his retreating army into two columns. One, led by
the young Leopold, was to retire through Glatz. The other, led by
Frederick, traversed a road a few leagues to the west, passing through
Königgratz. It was an awful retreat for both these divisions - through
snow, and sleet, and mud, hungry, weary, freezing, with swarms of
Pandours hanging upon their rear. Thousands perished by the way. The
horrors of such a retreat no pen can describe. Their very guides
deserted them, and became spies, to report their movements to the foe.

On one occasion the king himself narrowly escaped being taken prisoner.
One of his officers, General Trenck, gives the following graphic
narrative of the incident:

“One day the king entered the town of Collin, with his horse and foot
guard and the whole of the baggage. We had but four small field-pieces
with us. The squadron to which I belonged was placed in the suburb. In
the evening our advanced posts were driven back into the town, and the
huzzas of the enemy followed them pell-mell. All the country around was
covered with the light troops of the Austrians. My commandant sent me
to the king to take his orders.

“After a long search, I at length found him in a tower of a church,
with a telescope in his hand. Never had I seen him in so much
perplexity and anxiety as at this moment. The order he gave me was,
‘You must get out of this scrape as well as you can.’ I had hardly
got back to my post when his adjutant followed me with a new order
to cross the town, and to remain on horseback with my squadron in the
opposite suburb.

[Illustration: THE KING IN THE TOWER AT COLLIN.]

“We had just arrived there when it began to rain heavily, and the
night became exceedingly dark. About nine o’clock one of the Austrian
generals approached us with his light troops, and set fire to the
houses close to which we were posted. By the blaze of the conflagration
he soon discovered us, and began firing at us from the windows. The



Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 27 of 52)