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

History of Frederick the Second online

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town was so full that it was impossible for us to find a place in it.
Besides, the gate was barricaded, and from the top they were firing at
us with our small field-pieces, which they had captured.

“In the mean time the Austrians had turned in upon us a rivulet, and by
midnight we found our horses in the water up to their bellies. We were
really incapable of defending ourselves.”

Just at that time, when all hope seemed lost, it so happened that a
cannon-ball crushed the foot of the Austrian commander. This disaster,
together with the darkness and the torrents of rain, caused the fire of
the enemy to cease. The next morning some Prussian re-enforcements came
to the rescue of the king, and he escaped.

It was on the night of the 25th of November, cold and dreary, that
General Einsiedel commenced his retreat from Prague. He pushed his
wagon trains out before him, and followed with his horse and foot.
The Austrians were on the alert. Their light horsemen came clattering
into the city ere the rear-guard had left. The Catholic populace of
the city, being in sympathy with the Austrians, immediately joined the
Pandours in a fierce attack upon the Prussians. The retreating columns
were torn by a terrific fire from the windows of the houses, from
bridges, from boats, from every point whence a bullet could reach them.
But the well-drilled Prussians met the shock with the stern composure
of machines, leaving their path strewn with the dying and the dead.

The heroic General Einsiedel struggled along through the snow and over
the pathless hills, pursued and pelted every hour by the indomitable
foe. He was often compelled to abandon baggage-wagons and ambulances
containing the sick, while the wounded and the exhausted sank freezing
by the way. At one time he was so crowded by the enemy that he was
compelled to continue his march through the long hours of a wintry
night, by the light of pitch-pine torches. After this awful retreat of
twenty days, an emaciate, ragged, frostbitten band crossed the frontier
into Silesia, near Friedland. They were soon united with the other
columns of the discomfited and almost ruined army.

It will generally be admitted by military men that Frederick did not
display much ability of generalship in this campaign. He was fearless,
indomitable in energy, and tireless in the endurance of fatigue, but in
generalship he was entirely eclipsed by his formidable rival. Indeed,
Frederick could not be blind to this, and he had sufficient candor to
confess it. Subsequently, giving an account of these transactions in
his “Works,” he writes:

“No general has committed more faults than did the king in this
campaign. The conduct of Marshal Traun is a model of perfection, which
every soldier who loves his business ought to study, and try to imitate
if he have the talent. The king has admitted that he himself regarded
this campaign as his school in the art of war, and Marshal Traun as his

He then adds the philosophical reflection: “Bad is often better for
princes than good. Instead of intoxicating them with presumption, it
renders them circumspect and modest.”[76]

Frederick, leaving his army safe for a short time, quartered, as
he supposed, for the winter, in his strong fortresses of Silesia,
returned hastily to Berlin. It was necessary for him to make immediate
preparation for another campaign. “From December 13, 1744,” writes
Carlyle, “when he hastened home to Berlin, under such aspects, to June
4, 1745, when aspects suddenly changed, are probably the worst six
months Frederick had yet had in the world.”[77]

His wintry ride, a defeated monarch leaving a shattered army behind
him, must have been dark and dreary. He had already exhausted nearly
all the resources which his father, Frederick William, had accumulated.
His army was demoralized, weakened, and his _materiel_ of war greatly
impaired. His subjects were already heavily taxed. Though practicing
the most rigid economy, with his eye upon every expenditure, his
disastrous Bohemian campaign had cost him three hundred and fifty
thousand dollars a month. The least sum with which he could commence
a new campaign for the protection of Silesia was four million five
hundred thousand dollars. He had already melted up the sumptuous plate,
and the massive silver balustrades and balconies where his father had
deposited so much solid treasure.

“It was in these hours of apparently insurmountable difficulty that the
marvelous administrative genius of Frederick was displayed. No modern
reader can imagine the difficulties of Frederick at this time as they
already lay disclosed, and kept gradually disclosing themselves, for
months coming; nor will ever know what perspicacity, what patience
of scanning, sharpness of discernment, dexterity of management,
were required at Frederick’s hands; and under what imminency of
peril too - victorious deliverance or ruin and annihilation, wavering
fearfully in the balance, for him more than once, or rather all

To add to the embarrassments of Frederick, the King of Poland, entirely
under the control of his minister Brühl, who hated Frederick, entered
into an alliance with Maria Theresa, and engaged to furnish her with
thirty thousand troops, who were to be supported by the sea powers
England and Holland, who were also in close alliance with Austria.

Maria Theresa, greatly elated by her success in driving the Prussians
out of Bohemia, resolved immediately, notwithstanding the severity
of the season, to push her armies through the “Giant Mountains” for
the reconquering of Silesia. She ordered her generals to press on
with the utmost energy and overrun the whole country. At the same
time she issued a manifesto, declaring that the treaty of Breslau was
a treaty no longer; that the Silesians were absolved from all oaths
of allegiance to the King of Prussia, and that they were to hold
themselves in readiness to take the oath anew to the Queen of Hungary.

On the 18th of December a strong Austrian army entered Silesia and
took possession of the country of Glatz. The Prussian troops were
withdrawn in good order to their strong fortresses on the Oder. The
old Prince Leopold, the cast-iron man, called the Old Dessauer, the
most inflexible of mortals, was left in command of the Prussian troops.
He was, however, quite seriously alienated from Frederick. A veteran
soldier, having spent his lifetime on fields of blood, and having
served the monarchs of Prussia when Frederick was but a child, and
who had been the military instructor of the young prince, he deemed
himself entitled to consideration which an inexperienced officer might
not command. In one of the marches to which we have referred, Leopold
ventured to take a route different from that which Frederick had
prescribed to him. In the following terms the Prussian king reprimanded
him for his disobedience:

“I am greatly surprised that your excellency does not more accurately
follow my orders. If you were more skillful than Cæsar, and did not
with strict fidelity obey my directions, all else were of no help
to me. I hope this notice, once for all, will be enough, and that in
future you will give no cause for complaint.”

Prince Leopold was keenly wounded by this reproof. Though he uttered
not a word in self-defense, he was ever after, in the presence of
his majesty, very silent, distant, and reserved. Though scrupulously
faithful in every duty, he compelled the king to feel that an
impassable wall of separation had risen up between them. He was seeking
for an honorable pretext to withdraw from his majesty’s service.

Frederick had hardly reached Berlin ere he was astonished to learn,
from dispatches from the Old Dessauer, that the Austrians, not content
with driving him out of Bohemia, had actually invaded Silesia. Amazed,
or affecting amazement, at such audacity, he sent reiterated and
impatient orders to his veteran general to fall immediately upon the
insolent foe and crush him.

“Hurl them out,” he wrote. “Gather twenty, thirty thousand men, if need
be. Let there be no delay. I will as soon be pitched out of Brandenburg
as out of Silesia.”

But it was much easier for Frederick to issue these orders than for
Leopold to execute them. As Leopold could not, in a day, gather
sufficient force to warrant an attack upon the Austrians, the king was
greatly irritated, and allowed himself to write to Leopold in a strain
of which he must afterward have been much ashamed. On the 19th he
addressed a note to the veteran officer couched in the following terms:

“On the 21st I leave Berlin, and mean to be at Neisse on the 24th at
least. Your excellency will, in the mean time, make out the order of
battle for the regiments which have come in. For I will, on the 25th,
without delay, cross the Neisse, and attack those people, cost what it
may, and chase them out of Silesia, and follow them as far as possible.
You will, therefore, take measure and provide every thing, that the
project may be executed the moment I arrive.”

In this fiery humor, the king leaped upon his horse and galloped to
Schweidnitz. Here he met the Old Dessauer. He must have been not a
little mortified to learn that his veteran general was right, and he
utterly in the wrong. Prince Charles had returned home. Marshal Traun
was in command of the Austrians. He had a compact army of 20,000 men,
flushed with victory and surrounded by countless thousands of Pandours,
who veiled every movement from view. He had established himself in an
impregnable position on the south side of the Neisse, where he could
not be assailed, with any prospect of success, by the force which
Leopold could then summon to his aid.

Frederick was silenced, humiliated. He returned to Berlin, having
accomplished nothing, and having lost four days in his fruitless
adventure. Leopold was left to accumulate his resources as rapidly as
he could, and to attack the Austrians at his discretion.

Prince Charles had married the only sister of Maria Theresa. She was
young, beautiful, and amiable. While the prince was conducting his
arduous campaign on the Moldau, his wife, grief-stricken, consigned her
new-born babe to the tomb. The little stranger, born in the absence of
his father, had but opened his eyes upon this sad world when he closed
them forever. The princess sank rapidly into a decline.

Charles, feeling keenly the bereavement, and alarmed for the health
of his wife, whom he loved most tenderly, hastened to his home in
Brussels. The prince and princess were vice-regents, or “joint
governors” of the Netherlands. The decline of the princess was very
rapid. On the 16th of December, the young prince, with flooded eyes, a
broken-hearted man, followed the remains of his beloved companion to
their burial. Charles never recovered from the blow. He had been the
happiest of husbands. He sank into a state of deep despondency, and
could never be induced to wed again. Though in April he resumed, for
a time, the command of the army, his energies were wilted, his spirit
saddened, and he soon passed into oblivion. This is but one among the
countless millions of the unwritten tragedies of human life.

On the 9th of January, Leopold, having gathered a well-furnished army
of 25,000 men, crossed the Neisse to attack Marshal Traun. The marshal
did not deem it prudent to hazard a battle. Large bodies of troops were
soon to be sent to re-enforce him. He therefore retired by night toward
the south, breaking the bridges behind him. Though Silesia was thus
delivered from the main body of the Austrian army, the fleet-footed
Pandours remained, scouring the country on their shaggy horses,
plundering and destroying. The energetic, tireless Old Dessauer could
seldom get a shot at them. But they harassed his army, keeping the
troops constantly on the march amidst the storms and the freezing cold.

“The old serene highness himself, face the color of gunpowder, and
bluer in the winter frost, went rushing far and wide in an open vehicle
which he called his ‘cart,’ pushing out his detachments; supervising
every thing; wheeling hither and thither as needful; sweeping out the
Pandour world, and keeping it out; not much fighting needed, but ‘a
great deal of marching,’ murmurs Frederick, ‘which in winter is as bad,
and wears down the force of battalions.’”[79]


We seldom hear from Frederick any recognition of God. But on this
occasion, perhaps out of regard to the feelings of his subjects, he
ordered the _Te Deum_ to be sung in the churches of Berlin “for the
deliverance of Silesia from invasion.”

On the 20th of January, 1745, Charles Albert, the unhappy and
ever-unfortunate Emperor of Germany, died at Munich, in the
forty-eighth year of his age. Tortured by a complication of the most
painful disorders, he had seldom, for weary years, enjoyed an hour of
freedom from acute pain. An incessant series of disasters crushed all
his hopes. He was inextricably involved in debt. Triumphant foes drove
him from his realms. He wandered a fugitive in foreign courts, exposed
to humiliation and the most cutting indignities. Thus the victim of
bodily and mental anguish, it is said that one day some new tidings
of disaster prostrated him upon the bed of death. He was patient and
mild, but the saddest of mortals. Gladly he sought refuge in the tomb
from the storms of his drear and joyless life. An eye-witness writes,
“Charles Albert’s pious and affectionate demeanor drew tears from all
eyes. The manner in which he took leave of his empress would have
melted a heart of stone.”

“The death of the emperor,” says Frederick, “was the only event wanting
to complete the confusion and embroilment which already existed in the
political relations of the European powers.”

Maximilian Joseph, son of the emperor, was at the time of his father’s
death but seventeen years of age. He was titular Elector of Bavaria;
but Austrian armies had overrun the electorate, and he was a fugitive
from his dominions. At the entreaty of his mother, he entered into a
treaty of alliance with the Queen of Hungary. She agreed to restore to
him his realms, and to recognize his mother as empress dowager. He, on
the other hand, agreed to support the Pragmatic Sanction, and to give
his vote for the Grand-duke Francis as Emperor of Germany.

Thus Bavaria turned against Frederick. It was manifest to all that
Maria Theresa, aided by the alliances into which she had entered, and
sustained by the gold which the English cabinet so generously lavished
upon her, would be able to place the imperial crown upon her husband’s
brow. It was equally evident that the sceptre of power, of which that
crown was the emblem, would be entirely in her own hands.

Frederick had now France only for an ally. But France was seeking her
own private interests on the Rhine, as Frederick was aiming at the
aggrandizement of Prussia on his Austrian frontiers. Neither party was
disposed to make any sacrifice for the benefit of the other. Frederick,
thus thrown mainly upon his own resources, with an impoverished
treasury, and a weakened and baffled army, made indirect application to
both England and Austria for peace. But both of these courts, flushed
with success, were indisposed to listen to any terms which Frederick
would propose.

There was nothing left for his Prussian majesty but to abandon Silesia,
and retire within his own original borders, defeated and humiliated,
the object of the contempt and ridicule of Europe, or to press forward
in the conflict, summoning to his aid all the energies of despair.

Old Prince Leopold of Dessau, whom he had left in command of the army
in Silesia, was one of the most extraordinary men of any age. He
invented the iron ramrod, and also all modern military tactics. “The
soldiery of every civilized country still receives from this man,
on the parade-fields and battle-fields, its word of command. Out of
his rough head proceeded the essential of all that the innumerable
drill-sergeants in various languages repeat and enforce.”[80]

Dessau was a little independent principality embracing a few square
miles, about eighty miles southwest of Prussia. The prince had a
Liliputian army, and a revenue of about fifty thousand dollars.
Leopold’s mother was the sister of the great Elector of Brandenburg’s
first wife. The little principality was thus, by matrimonial alliance
as well as location, in affinity with Prussia.

Leopold, in early youth, fell deeply in love with a beautiful young
lady, Mademoiselle Fos. She was the daughter of an apothecary. His
aristocratic friends were shocked at the idea of so unequal a marriage.
The sturdy will of Leopold was unyielding. They sent him away, under
a French tutor, to take the grand tour of Europe. After an absence of
fourteen months he returned. The first thing he did was to call upon
Mademoiselle Fos. After that, he called upon his widowed mother. It was
in vain to resist the will of such a man. In 1698 he married her, and
soon, by his splendid military services, so ennobled his bride that all
were ready to do her homage. For half a century she was his loved and
honored spouse, attending him in all his campaigns.

With a tender heart, Leopold was one of the most stern and rugged of
men. Spending his whole life amidst the storms of battle, he seemed
ever insensible to fatigue, and regardless of all physical comforts.
And yet there was a vein of truly feminine gentleness and tenderness
in his heart, which made him one of the most loving of husbands and

His young daughter Louisa, bride of Victor Leopold, reigning Prince of
Anhalt-Bernburg, lay dying of a decline. A few days before her death
she said, “I wish I could see my father at the head of his regiment
once again before I die.” The remark was reported to Leopold. He was
then with his regiment at Halle, thirty miles distant. Immediately the
troops were called out, and marched at rapid pace to Bernburg. With
banners flying, music playing, and all customary display of military
pomp, they entered the court-yard of the palace. The dying daughter,
pale and emaciate, sat at the window. The war-worn father rose in his
stirrups to salute his child, and then put his regiment through all its
most interesting manœuvrings. The soldiers were then marched to the
orphan-house, where the common men were treated with bread and beer,
all the officers dining at the prince’s table. “All the officers except
Leopold alone, who stole away out of the crowd, sat himself upon the
Saale bridge, and wept into the river.”

Leopold was now seventy years of age. On the 5th of February his
much-loved wife died at Dessau. Leopold, infirm in health, and broken
with grief, entreated the king to allow him to go home. He could not,
of course, be immediately spared.

On the 15th of March Frederick left Berlin for Silesia. Stopping to
examine some of his works at Glogau and Breslau, he reached Neisse
on the 23d. On the 29th he dismissed the Old Dessauer, with many
expressions of kindness and sympathy, to go home to recover his health.

“Old Leopold is hardly at home at Dessau,” writes Carlyle, “when
the new Pandour tempests, tides of ravaging war, again come beating
against the Giant Mountains, pouring through all passes, huge influx
of wild riding hordes, each with some support of Austrian grenadiers,
cannoniers, threatening to submerge Silesia. Precursors, Frederick
need not doubt, of a strenuous, regular attempt that way. Hungarian
majesty’s fixed intention, hope, and determination is to expel him
straightway from Silesia.”[81]

The latter part of April Prince Charles had gathered a large force
of Austrian regulars at Olmütz, with the manifest intention of
again invading Silesia. The King of Poland had entered into cordial
alliance with Austria, and was sending a large army of Saxon troops
to co-operate in the enterprise. Frederick’s indignation was great,
and his peril still greater. Encamped in the valley of the Neisse,
assailed on every side, and menaced with still more formidable foes, he
dispatched orders to the Old Dessauer immediately to establish an army
of observation (thirty thousand strong) upon the frontiers of Saxony.
He was to be prepared instantly, upon the Saxon troops leaving Saxony,
to ravage the country with the most merciless plunderings of war.

The Queen of Hungary had purchased the co-operation of the Polish king
by offering to surrender to him a generous portion of Silesia after the
province should have been reconquered. Indeed, there was a great cause
of apprehension that the allied army would make a rush upon Berlin
itself. The aspect of his Prussian majesty’s affairs was now gloomy in
the extreme.

Frederick wrote to his minister Podewils in Berlin, under date of
Neisse, March 29, 1745, as follows: “We find ourselves in a great
crisis. If we don’t by mediation of England get peace, our enemies from
different sides will come plunging in against me. Peace I can not force
them to. But if we must have war, we will either beat them, or none of
us will ever see Berlin again.”

On the 17th of April again he wrote, still from Neisse: “I toil day and
night to improve our situation. The soldiers will do their duty. There
is none among us who will not rather have his back-bone broken than
give up one foot-breadth of ground. They must either grant us a good
peace, or we will surpass ourselves by miracles of daring, and force
the enemy to accept it from us.”

On the 20th of April he wrote: “Our situation is disagreeable, but my
determination is taken. If we needs must fight, we will do it like men
driven desperate. Never was there a greater peril than that I am now
in. Time, at its own pleasure, will untie this knot, or destiny, if
there is one, determine the event. The game I play is so high, one can
not contemplate the issue with cold blood. Pray for the return of my
good luck.”

The alarm in Berlin was very great. The citizens were awake to the
consciousness that there was danger; that the city itself would be
assaulted. Great was the consternation in the capital when minute
directions came from Frederick respecting the course to be pursued in
the event of such a calamity, and the places of refuge to which the
royal family should retreat.

On the 26th of April Frederick again wrote to M. Podewils: “I can
understand how you are getting uneasy at Berlin. I have the most to
lose of you all, but I am quiet and prepared for events. If the Saxons
take part in the invasion of Silesia, and we beat them, I am determined
to plunge into Saxony. For great maladies there need great remedies.
Either I will maintain my all or else lose my all. To me remains
only to possess myself in patience. If all alliances, resources, and
negotiations fail, and all conjunctures go against me, I prefer to
perish with honor rather than lead an inglorious life, deprived of all
dignity. My ambition whispers me that I have done more than another
to the building up of my house, and have played a distinguished part
among the crowned heads of Europe. To maintain myself there has become,
as it were, a personal duty, which I will fulfill at the expense of
my happiness and my life. I have no choice left. I will maintain my
power, or it may go to ruin, and the Prussian name be buried under it.
If the enemy attempt any thing upon us, we will either beat them, or
will all be hewed to pieces for the sake of our country and the renown
of Brandenburg. No other counsel can I listen to. Perform faithfully
the given work on your side, as I on mine. For the rest, let what you
call Providence decide as it likes. I prepare myself for every event.
Fortune may be kind or be unkind, it shall neither dishearten me nor
uplift me. If I am to perish, let it be with honor, and sword in hand.”

Frederick was, with great energy, gathering all his resources for a
decisive conflict in his fortresses along the banks of the Neisse. By
almost superhuman exertions he had collected an army there of about
seventy thousand men. The united army of Austria and Saxony marching
upon him amounted to one hundred thousand regulars, together with
uncounted swarms of Pandours sweeping around him in all directions,
interrupting his communications and cutting off his supplies.

The mountain range upon the south, which separated Silesia from the
realms of the Queen of Hungary, was three or four hundred miles long,
with some twenty defiles practicable for the passage of troops. The

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 28 of 52)