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

History of Frederick the Second online

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French minister Valori urged Frederick to guard these passes. This was
impossible; and the self-confidence of the Prussian king is revealed
in his reply: “My friend, if you wish to catch the mouse, you must not
shut the trap, but leave it open.”

The latter part of May, Frederick, in his head-quarters at
Frankenstein, learned that an Austrian army under Prince Charles, and
a Saxon army under the Duke of Weissenfels, in columns, by strict
count seventy-five thousand strong, had defiled through the passes
of the Giant Mountains, and entered Silesia near Landshut. Day after
day he ascended an eminence, and, with his glass, anxiously scanned
the horizon, to detect signs of the approach of the foe. On Thursday
morning, June 3, an immense cloud of dust in the distance indicated
that the decisive hour was at hand.

As this magnificent army entered upon the smooth and beautiful fields
of Southern Silesia they shook out their banners, and with peals of
music gave expression to their confidence of victory. The Austrian
officers pitched their tents on a hill near Hohenfriedberg, where they
feasted and drank their wine, while, during the long and beautiful June
afternoon, they watched the onward sweep of their glittering host. “The
Austrian and Saxon army,” writes an eye-witness, “streamed out all the
afternoon, each regiment or division taking the place appointed it; all
the afternoon, till late in the night, submerging the country as in a

Far away in the east the Austrian officers discerned a Prussian column
of observation, consisting of about twelve thousand horse and foot,
wending along from hollow to height, their polished weapons flashing
back the rays of the afternoon sun. Frederick, carefully examining the
ground, immediately made arrangements to bring forward his troops under
curtain of the night for a decisive battle. His orderlies were silently
dispatched in all directions. At eight o’clock the whole army was in
motion. His troops were so concentrated that the farthest divisions had
a march of only nine miles. Silently, not a word being spoken, not a
pipe being lighted, and all the baggage being left behind, they crossed
the bridge of the Striegau River, and, deploying to the right and the
left, took position in front of the slumbering allied troops.

[Illustration: BATTLE OF HOHENFRIEDBERG, JUNE 4, 1745.

_a a. Austrian Army. b. Prince Weissenfels. c c. Prussian Army.
d. Dumoulin. e. Gesler’s Dragoons._]

With the first dawn of the morning, the two armies, in close contact,
rushed furiously upon each other. There were seventy thousand on the
one side, seventy-five thousand on the other. They faced each other in
lines over an undulating plain nearly ten miles in extent. It is in
vain to attempt to give the reader an adequate idea of the terrible
battle which ensued. With musketry, artillery, gleaming sabres, and
rushing horsemen, the infuriate hosts dashed upon each other. For
fifteen hours the blood-red surges of battle swept to and fro over the
plain. At length Prince Charles, having lost nine thousand in dead and
wounded, seven thousand prisoners, sixteen thousand in all, sixty-six
cannon, seventy-three flags and standards, beat a retreat. Rapidly his
bleeding and exhausted troops marched back through Hohenfriedberg,
entered the mountain defiles, and sought refuge, a thoroughly beaten
army, among the fortresses of Bohemia. Frederick remained the
undisputed victor of the field. Five thousand of his brave soldiers lay
dead or wounded upon the plain. Even his stoical heart was moved by the
greatness of the victory. As he first caught sight of M. Valori after
the battle, he threw his arms around him, exclaiming, “My friend, God
has helped me wonderfully this day.”

“There was, after all,” says Valori, “at times a kind of devout feeling
in this prince, who possessed such a combination of qualities, good and
bad, that I know not which preponderates.”

The Prussian army was so exhausted by its midnight march and its long
day of battle that his majesty did not deem it wise to attempt to
pursue the retreating foe. For this he has been severely, we think
unjustly, censured by some military men. He immediately, that evening,
wrote to his mother, saying, “So decisive a defeat has not been since
Blenheim,” and assuring her that the two princes, her sons, who had
accompanied him to the battle, were safe. Such was the battle of
Hohenfriedberg, once of world-wide renown, now almost forgotten.



Battle of Hohenfriedberg. - Religious Antagonism. - Anecdote of the
King. - Retreat of the Austrians. - Horrors of War. - “A slight
Pleasantry.” - Sufferings of the Prussian Army. - The Victory of
Fontenoy. - Frederick’s Pecuniary Embarrassments. - Executive
Abilities of Maria Theresa. - Inflexibility of the Austrian Queen. -
The Retreat to Silesia. - The Surprise at Sohr. - Military Genius of
Frederick. - Great Victory of Sohr.

The decisive battle of Hohenfriedberg, by which victory Frederick
probably escaped utter destruction, was fought on the 4th of June,
1745. From early dawn to the evening twilight of the long summer’s
day the dreadful work of slaughter had continued without a moment’s
intermission. As the Austrians, having lost nearly one fourth of their
number, retreated, the Prussians, in utter exhaustion, threw themselves
upon the ground for sleep. The field around them was covered with
fourteen thousand of the wounded, the dying, and the dead.

Early the next morning Frederick commenced the vigorous pursuit of
the retiring foe. A storm arose. For twelve hours the rain fell in
torrents. But the Prussian army was impelled onward, through the mud,
and through the swollen streams, inspired by the almost supernatural
energy which glowed in the bosom of its king. It seemed as if no
hardships, sufferings, or perils could induce those iron men, who
by discipline had been converted into mere machines, to wander from
the ranks or to falter on the way. As we have mentioned, there were
throughout all this region two religious parties, the Catholics and the
Protestants. They were strongly antagonistic to each other. Under the
Austrian sway, the Catholics, having the support of the government, had
enjoyed unquestioned supremacy. They had often very cruelly persecuted
the Protestants, robbing them of their churches, and, in their zeal to
defend what they deemed the orthodox faith, depriving them of their
children, and placing them under the care of the Catholic priests to be

“While the battle of Hohenfriedberg was raging,” writes an eye-witness,
“as far as the cannon was heard all around, the Protestants fell on
their knees praying for victory for the Prussians.” Indescribable
was the exultation when the bugle peals of the Prussian trumpeters
announced to them a Protestant victory. When Frederick approached, in
his pursuit, the important town of Landshut, the following incident
occurred, as described by the pen of his Prussian majesty:

“Upon reaching the neighborhood of Landshut, the king was surrounded by
a troop of two thousand Protestant peasants. They begged permission of
him to massacre the Catholics of those parts, and clear the country of
them altogether. This animosity arose from the persecutions which the
Protestants had suffered during the Austrian domination.

“The king was very far from granting so barbarous a permission. He told
them they ought rather to conform to the precepts of Scripture, and to
‘bless those that curse them, and pray for those that despitefully use
them.’ Such, the king assured them, was the way to gain the kingdom
of heaven. The peasants, after a little reflection, declared that his
majesty was right, and desisted from their cruel intention.”[82]

For several weeks the Austrians slowly and sullenly retired. Their
retreat was conducted in two immense columns, by parallel roads at
some distance from each other. Their wings of foragers and skirmishers
were widely extended, so that the hungry army swept with desolation a
breadth of country reaching out many leagues. Though the Austrian army
was traversing the friendly territory of Bohemia, still Prince Charles
was anxious to leave behind him no resources for Frederick to glean.
Frederick, with his army, pressed along, following the wide-spread
trail of his foes. The Austrians, with great skill, selected every
commanding position on which to erect their batteries, and hurl back
a storm of shot and shell into the bosoms of their pursuers. But
Frederick allowed them no rest by day or by night. His solid columns so
unremittingly and so impetuously pressed with shot, bullets, bayonet,
and sabre-blows upon the rear ranks of the foe that there was almost
an incessant battle, continuing for several weeks, crimsoning a path
thirty miles wide and more than a hundred miles in length with the
blood of the wounded and the slain.


The region through which this retreat and pursuit were conducted was
much of the way along the southern slope of the Giant Mountains. It was
a wild country of precipitous rocks, quagmires, and gloomy forests.
At length Prince Charles, with his defeated and dispirited army, took
refuge at Königsgraft, a compact town between the Elbe and the Adler,
protected by one stream on the west, and by the other on the south.
Here, in an impregnable position, he intrenched his troops. Frederick,
finding them unassailable, encamped his forces in a position almost
equally impregnable, a few miles west of the Elbe, in the vicinity of a
little village called Chlum. Thus the two hostile armies, almost within
sound of each other’s bugles, defiantly stood in battle array, each
watching an opportunity to strike a blow.

“War is cruelty,” said General Sherman; “and you can not refine
it.” “No man of refined Christian sensibilities,” said the Duke of
Wellington, “should undertake the profession of a soldier.” The
exigencies of war often require things to be done from which humanity
revolts. “War,” said Napoleon I., “is the science of barbarians.” One
of the principal objects of Frederick in this pursuit of the Austrians
through Bohemia was to lay waste the country so utterly, destroying
its roads and consuming its provisions, that no Austrian army could
again pass through it for the invasion of Silesia. Who can imagine the
amount of woe thus inflicted upon the innocent peasants of Bohemia?
Both armies were reduced to the necessity of living mainly upon the
resources of the country in which they were encamped. Their foraging
parties were scattered in all directions. There were frequent attacks
of outposts and bloody skirmishes, in which many were slain and many
were crippled for life. Each death, each wound, sent tears, and often
life-long woe, to some humble cottage.

There are sometimes great and glorious objects to be attained - objects
which elevate and ennoble a nation or a race - which warrant the
expenditure of almost any amount of temporary suffering. It is not
the duty of the millions to suffer the proud and haughty hundreds to
consign them to ignorance and trample them in the dust. In this wicked
world, where kings and nobles have ever been so ready to doom the
masses of the people to ignorance, servitude, and want, human rights
have almost never made any advances but through the energies of the
sword. Many illustrious generals, who, with saddened hearts, have led
their armies over fields of blood, have been among the most devoted
friends and ornaments of humanity. Their names have been enshrined in
the affections of grateful millions.

But this war, into which the Prussian king had so recklessly plunged
all Europe, was purely a war of personal ambition. Even Frederick did
not pretend that it involved any question of human rights. Unblushingly
he avowed that he drew his sword and led his hundred thousand
peasant-boys upon their dreadful career of carnage and misery simply
that he might enlarge his territories, gain renown as a conqueror, and
make the world talk about him. It must be a fearful thing to go to the
judgment seat of Christ with such a crime weighing upon the soul.

War has its jokes and merriment, but the comedies of war are often more
dreadful than the tragedies of peace. Frederick, in his works, records
the following incident, which he narrates as “slight pleasantry, to
relieve the reader’s mind:”[83]

The Prussians had a detached post at Smirzitz. The little garrison
there was much harassed by lurking bands of Austrians, who shot their
sentries, cut off their supplies, and rendered it almost certain death
to any one who ventured to emerge from the ramparts. Some inventive
genius among the Prussians constructed a straw man, very like life,
representing a sentinel with his shouldered musket. By a series of
ropes this effigy was made to move from right to left, as if walking
his beat. A well-armed band of Prussians then hid in a thicket near by.

Ere long a company of Austrian scouts approached. From a distance
they eyed the sentinel, moving to and fro as he guarded his post. A
sharp-shooter crept near, and, taking deliberate aim at his supposed
victim, fired. A twitch upon the rope caused the image to fall flat.
The whole band of Austrians, with a shout, rushed to the spot. The
Prussians, from their ambuscade, opened upon them a deadly fire of
bullets. Then, as the ground was covered with the mutilated and the
dead, the Prussians, causing the welkin to ring with their peals of
laughter, rushed with fixed bayonets upon their entrapped foes. Not a
single Austrian had escaped being struck by a bullet. Those who were
not killed outright were wounded, and were taken captive. This is one
of the “slight pleasantries” of war.

Frederick’s army was now in a state of great destitution. The
region around was so stripped of its resources that it could afford
his foragers no more supplies. It was difficult for him to fill
his baggage-trains even in Silesia, so much had that country been
devastated by war; and wherever any of his supply wagons appeared,
swarms of Austrian dragoons hovered around, attacking and destroying
them. To add to the embarrassments of the Prussian king, his purse was
empty. His subjects could endure no heavier taxation. All the plate
which Frederick William had accumulated had been converted into coin
and expended. Even the massive silver balustrades, which were reserved
until a time of need, were melted and gone. He knew not where to look
for a loan. All the nations were involved in ruinous war. All wished to
borrow. None but England had money to lend; and England was fighting
Frederick, and furnishing supplies for his foes.

[Illustration: A SLIGHT PLEASANTRY.]

The expenses of the war were enormous. Frederick made a careful
estimate, and found that he required at least three hundred and
seventy-five thousand dollars a month. He could not carry on another
campaign with less than four million five hundred thousand dollars.
He had been expecting that Louis XV., who in person was in command of
the French army on the Rhine, would send him a re-enforcement of sixty
thousand troops to enable him to crush the forces of Prince Charles.
But week after week passed, and no re-enforcements came. The French,
intent upon their conquest, were as selfishly pursuing their own
interests on the Rhine as Frederick was pursuing his in Silesia.

The great victory of Fontenoy, gained by the French on the Rhine,
caused boundless exultation throughout France. “The French,” writes
Carlyle, “made immense explosions of rejoicing over this victory;
Voltaire celebrating it in prose and verse to an amazing degree; the
whole nation blazing out over it into illuminations, arcs of triumph,
and universal three times three; in short, I think nearly the heartiest
national huzza, loud, deep, long-drawn, that the nation ever gave in
like case.”

But this victory on the Rhine was of no avail to Frederick in Bohemia.
It did not diminish the hosts which Prince Charles was gathering
against him. It did not add a soldier to his diminished columns, or
supply his exhausted magazines, or replenish his empty treasury. Louis
XV. was so delighted with the victory that he supposed Frederick would
be in sympathy with him. He immediately dispatched a courier to the
Prussian king with the glad tidings. But Frederick, disappointed,
embarrassed, chagrined, instead of being gratified, was irritated
by the news. He sent back the scornful reply “that a victory upon
the Scamander,[84] or in the heart of China, would have been just as
important to him.”

Louis XV. felt insulted by this message, and responded in a similar
strain of irritation. Thus the two monarchs were alienated from each
other. Indeed, Frederick had almost as much cause to be dissatisfied
with the French as they had to be dissatisfied with him. Each of the
monarchs was ready to sacrifice the other if any thing was to be gained

Frederick was now in such deep pecuniary embarrassment that he was
compelled to humble himself so far as to apply to the King of France
for money. “If your majesty,” he wrote, “can not furnish me with any
re-enforcements, you must, at least, send me funds to raise additional
troops. The smallest possible sum which will enable me to maintain my
position here is three million dollars.”

Louis XV. wrote a very unsatisfactory letter in reply. He stated,
with many apologies, that his funds were terribly low, that he was
exceedingly embarrassed, that it was impossible to send the sum
required, but that he would _try_ to furnish him with a hundred
thousand dollars a month.

Frederick was indignant. Scornfully he rejected the proposal, saying,
“Such a paltry sum might with propriety, perhaps, be offered to a
petty duke of Hesse-Darmstadt, but it is not suitable to make such a
proposition to the King of Prussia.”

Poor Valori, the French embassador, was placed in a very embarrassing
situation. The anger of the Prussian king vented itself upon him. He
was in complete disgrace. It was his duty daily to wait upon Frederick.
But the king would seldom speak to him, or even look upon him; and if
he did favor him with a glance, it was with an expression of scorn.

Frederick was rapidly awaking to the consciousness that Maria Theresa,
whom he had despised as a woman, and a young wife and mother, and whose
territory he thought he could dismember with impunity, was fully his
equal, not only in ability to raise and direct armies, but also in
diplomatic intrigue. About the middle of August he perceived from his
camp in Chlum that Prince Charles was receiving large re-enforcements
from the south. At the same time, he saw that corps after corps,
principally of Saxon troops, were defiling away by circuitous roads
to the north. It was soon evident that the heroic Maria Theresa was
preparing to send an army into the very heart of Prussia to attack its
capital. This was, indeed, changing the aspect of the war.

Berlin was almost defenseless. All Saxony was rising in arms behind
Frederick. The invader of Silesia was in danger of having his own
realms invaded and his own capital sacked. Frederick was thoroughly
roused. But he never allowed himself to appear agitated or anxious.
He ordered Leopold, the Old Dessauer, to march immediately, with all
the troops he could rally, to the frontiers of Saxony. He even found
it necessary to detach to the aid of Leopold some corps from his own
enfeebled forces, now menaced by an Austrian army twice as large as he
could oppose to them.

While affairs were in this posture, the English, eager to crush
their hereditary rivals, the French, were very anxious to detach the
Prussians from the French alliance. The only way to do this was to
induce Maria Theresa to offer terms of peace such as Frederick would
accept. They sent Sir Thomas Robinson to Schönbrunn to endeavor to
accomplish this purpose. He had an interview with her Hungarian majesty
on the 2d of August, 1745. The queen was very dignified and reticent.
Silently she listened to the proposals of Sir Thomas. She then said,
with firmness which left no room for further argument,

“It would be easier for me to make peace with France than with Prussia.
What good could possibly result now from peace with Prussia? I must
have Silesia again. Without Silesia the imperial sceptre would be but a
bauble. Would you have us sway that sceptre under the guardianship of
Prussia? Prince Charles is now in a condition to fight the Prussians
again. Until after another battle, do not speak to me of peace. You say
that if we make peace with Prussia, Frederick will give his vote for
the grand-duke as emperor. The grand-duke is not so ambitious of an
empty honor as to engage in it under the tutelage of Prussia. Consider,
moreover, is the imperial dignity consistent with the loss of Silesia?
One more battle I demand. Were I compelled to agree with Frederick
to-morrow, I would try him in a battle to-night.”[85]

On the 13th of September the German Diet met at Frankfort for the
election of emperor. Frederick had determined that the Grand-duke
Francis, husband of the Hungarian queen, should not be elected. Maria
Theresa had outgeneraled him. Francis was elected. He had seven out
of nine of the electoral votes. Frederick, thus baffled, could only
protest. Maria Theresa was conscious of her triumph. Though the
imperial crown was placed upon the brow of Francis, all Europe knew
that the sceptre was in the hands of his far more able and efficient
wife. Maria Theresa was at Frankfort at the time of the election. She
could not conceal her exultation. She seemed very willing to have it
understood that her amiable husband was but the instrument of her will.
She took the title of empress queen, and assumed a very lofty carriage
toward the princes of the empire. Alluding to Frederick, she said, in a
very imperial tone, for she deemed him now virtually vanquished,

“His Prussian majesty has unquestionably talent, but what a character!
He is frivolous in the extreme, and sadly a heretic in his religious
views. He is a dishonorable man, and what a neighbor he has been! As to
Silesia, I would as soon part with my last garment as part with it.”

Her majesty now wrote to Prince Charles, urging him to engage
immediately in a fight with Frederick. She sent two of the highest
dignitaries of the court to Königgrätz to press forward immediate
action. There was an eminence near by, which the Austrian officers
daily ascended, and from which they could look directly into the
Prussian camp and observe all that was transpiring there.

The position of Frederick became daily more embarrassing. His forces
were continually decreasing. Re-enforcements were swelling the ranks
of the Austrians. Elated in becoming the _Imperial Army_, they grew
more bold and annoying, assailing the Prussian outposts and cutting off
their supplies.

On the 18th of September, when the rejoicing Austrians at Königgrätz
were firing salutes, drinking wine, and feasting in honor of the
election of the grand-duke to the imperial dignity, Frederick, availing
himself of the carousal in the camp of his foes, crossed the Elbe with
his whole army, a few miles above Königgrätz, and commenced his retreat
to Silesia. His path led through a wild, sparsely inhabited country, of
precipitous rocks, hills, mountain torrents, and quagmires. One vast
forest spread along the banks of the Elbe, covering with its gloom an
extent of sixty square miles. A few miserable hamlets were scattered
over this desolate region. The poor inhabitants lived mainly upon the
rye which they raised and the swine which ranged the forest.

Along the eastern edge of this vast wilderness the army of Frederick
marched for two days. But Hungarian Pandours in swarms, savage men on
their fleet and shaggy horses, were continually emerging from the paths
of the forest, with gleaming sabres and shrill war-cries, assailing the
flank of the Prussian line wherever there was the slightest exposure.
In the vicinity of the little village of Sohr the king encamped for two
days. The halt seemed necessary to refresh his horses, and to send out
foraging parties to replenish his stores. But the light horsemen of
the foe were so thick around him, so vigilant, and so bold, that no
baggage train could enter his camp unless protected by eight thousand
foot and three thousand horse.

Just at the break of day of Thursday morning, September 30, as the king

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 29 of 52)