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

History of Frederick the Second online

. (page 33 of 52)
Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 33 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

first opportunity to force the Prussian monarch back to the possession
of simply his original boundary of Brandenburg. It was also agreed
that, should Prussia attack any of the allies of Russia, or be attacked
by any of them, the armies of the czar should immediately array
themselves against the armies of Frederick. There were many other
papers, more or less obscure, which rendered it very certain that Maria
Theresa would ere long make a new attempt to regain Silesia, and that
in that attempt she would be aided both by Russia and Poland. Frederick
also knew full well that nothing would better please his uncle George
II. of England than to see Prussia crowded back to her smallest limits.
To add to Frederick’s embarrassment, France was hopelessly alienated
from him.

Many bitter words had already passed between Louis XV. and Frederick.
But recently a new element of discord had appeared. The Duchess of
Pompadour, the guilty favorite of Louis XV., beautiful, fascinating,
and wicked, had become a power in Europe, notwithstanding the ignoble
position she occupied. This artful and enchanting woman, having the
weak king completely under her control, was in reality the ruler
of France. The proudest nobles and the highest ecclesiastics bowed
submissively at her shrine. Even the immaculate Maria Theresa,
constrained by state policy, wrote flattering notes to her, addressing
her as “my cousin,” “princess and cousin,” “madame, my dearest sister.”

The pampered duchess sent by the French minister to Berlin a
complimentary message to Frederick. He disdainfully replied: “The
Duchess of Pompadour! who is she? I do not know her.” This was an
offense never to be forgiven.

Frederick was now in imminent danger of being assailed by a coalition
of Austria, Russia, Poland, and England. Indeed, it was by no means
certain that France might not also join the alliance. All this was the
result of Frederick’s great crime in wresting Silesia from Austria.
Such was the posture of affairs when, in the summer of 1755, Frederick
decided to take a trip into Holland incognito. He disguised himself
with a black wig, and assumed the character of a musician of the
King of Poland. At Amsterdam he embarked for Utrecht in the common
passage-boat. The king mingled with the other passengers without any
one suspecting his rank. There chanced to be in the boat a young Swiss
gentleman, Henry de Catt, twenty-seven years of age. He was a teacher,
taking a short tour for recreation. He gives the following account of
his interview with the king, whom, at the time, he had no reason to
suppose was other than an ordinary passenger. We give the narrative in
his own words:

“As I could not get into the cabin, because it was all engaged, I staid
with the other passengers in the steerage, and the weather being fine,
came upon deck. After some time there stepped out of the cabin a man in
cinnamon-colored coat with gold buttons; in black wig; face and coat
considerably dusted with Spanish snuff. He looked at me fixedly for
a while, and then said, without farther preface, ‘Who are you, sir?’
This cavalier tone from an unknown person, whose exterior indicated
nothing very important, did not please me, and I declined satisfying
his curiosity. He was silent. But some time after he assumed a more
courteous tone, and said, ‘Come in here to me, sir. You will be better
here than in the steerage amidst the tobacco-smoke.’

“This polite address put an end to all anger; and, as the singular
manner of the man excited my curiosity, I took advantage of the
invitation. We sat down and began to speak confidentially with one

“‘Do you see the man in the garden yonder, sitting, smoking his pipe?’
said he to me. ‘That man, you may depend upon it, is not happy.’

“‘I know not,’ I answered; ‘but it seems to me, until one knows a man,
and is completely acquainted with his situation and his way of thought,
one can not possibly determine whether he is happy or unhappy.’

“My gentleman admitted this, and led the conversation on to the
Dutch government. He criticised it - probably to bring me to speak.
I did speak, and gave him frankly to know that he was not perfectly
instructed in the thing he was criticising.

“‘You are right,’ answered he; ‘one can only criticise what one is
thoroughly acquainted with.’

“He now began to speak of religion; and, with eloquent tongue, to
recount what mischiefs scholastic philosophy had brought upon the
world; then tried to prove that creation was impossible.

“At this last point I stood out in opposition. ‘But how can one create
something out of nothing?’ said he.

“‘That is not the question,’ I answered. ‘The question is, whether such
a being as God can, or can not, give existence to what, as yet, has

“He seemed embarrassed, and added, ‘But the universe is eternal.’

“‘You are in a circle,’ said I. ‘How will you get out of it?’

“‘I skip over it,’ he replied, laughing; and then began to talk of
other things. He inquired,

“‘What form of government do you reckon the best?’

“‘The monarchic, if the king is just and enlightened.’

“‘Very well,’ said he; ‘but where will you find kings of that sort?’
And thereupon went into such a sally as could not in the least lead me
to suppose that he was one. In the end, he expressed pity for them,
that they could not know the sweets of friendship, and cited on the
occasion these verses - his own, I suppose:

“‘Amitié, plaisir des grandes âmes;
Amitié, que les rois, ces illustres ingrats
Sont assez malheureux de ne connaître pas!’

“‘I have not the honor to be acquainted with kings,’ said I; ‘but, to
judge from what one has read in history of several of them, I should
believe, sir, on the whole, that you are right.’

“‘Ah! yes, yes,’ he added, ‘I’m right. I know the gentlemen.’

“A droll incident happened during our dialogue. My gentleman wanted to
let down a little sash window, and could not manage it. ‘You do not
understand that,’ said I; ‘let me do it.’ I tried to get it down, but
succeeded no better than he.

“‘Sir,’ said he, ‘allow me to remark, on my side, that you understand
as little of it as I.’

“‘That is true,’ I replied, ‘and I beg your pardon. I was too rash in
accusing you of a want of expertness.’

“‘Were you ever in Germany?’ he now asked me.

“‘No,’ I answered; ‘but I should like to make that journey. I am very
curious to see the Prussian states and their king, of whom one hears so
much.’ And now I began to launch out on Frederick’s actions.

“But he interrupted me hastily with the word, ‘Nothing more of kings,
sir - nothing more. What have we to do with them? We will spend the
rest of our voyage on more agreeable and cheering objects.’ And now
he spoke of the best of all possible worlds, and maintained that in
our planet, earth, there was more evil than good. I maintained the
contrary, and this discussion brought us to the end of the voyage.

“On quitting me he said, ‘I hope, sir, you will leave me your name. I
am very glad to have made your acquaintance. Perhaps we shall see one
another again.’ I replied as was fitting to the compliment, and begged
him to excuse me for having contradicted him a little. I then told him
my name, and we parted.”

How soon Henry learned that he had been conversing with the King of
Prussia we do not know. It is evident that Frederick was pleased with
the interview. He soon after invited Henry de Catt to his court, and
appointed him reader to the king. In this capacity he served his
Prussian majesty for about twenty years. He left a note-book in the
royal archives of Berlin from which the above extracts are taken.



Secret Preparations for a Coalition. - Frederick’s Embarrassments. -
The uncertain Support of England. - Causes of the War. - Commencement
of Hostilities. - Letter from Frederick to his Sister Amelia. -
Letter to his Brother. - The Invasion of Saxony. - Misfortunes of the
Royal Family of Poland. - Battle of Lobositz. - Energetic Military
Movements. - Prisoners of War compelled to enlist in the Prussian
Service. - Dispatches from Frederick. - Battle of Prague. - Battle of
Kolin. - Retreat of Frederick. - Death of Sophia Dorothea.

We now enter upon the third Silesian war, usually termed in history
The Seven Years’ War. For four years Frederick had been aware that
a coalition was secretly forming against him. Maria Theresa wished,
with ardor which had never for one moment abated, to regain Silesia.
All the other European powers, without exception, desired to curb
Frederick, whose ambition they feared. They were well aware that he was
taking advantage of a few years of peace to replenish his treasury,
and to enlarge his army for new conquests. As we have before stated,
Frederick, by bribery, had fully informed himself of the secret
arrangements into which Austria, Russia, Poland, and other powers were
entering for the dismemberment of his realms. It is in vain to attempt
to unravel the intricacies of the diplomacy which ensued.

England, while endeavoring to subsidize Russia against Frederick,
entered secretly into a sort of alliance with Frederick, hoping thus to
save Hanover. The Empress Elizabeth, of Russia, heartily united with
Maria Theresa against Frederick, whom she personally disliked, and
whose encroachments she dreaded. His Prussian majesty, proud of his
powers of sarcasm, in his poems spared neither friend nor foe. He had
written some very severe things against the Russian empress, which had
reached her ears.[100]

Frederick was in great perplexity. To wait for his enemies to complete
their arrangements, and to commence the attack at their leisure, placed
him at great disadvantage. To begin the attack himself, and thus to
open anew the floodgates of war, would increase the hostility with
which the nations were regarding him. As the diplomacy of the foreign
cabinets had been secret, he would universally be regarded as the
aggressor. England was Frederick’s only ally - a treacherous ally,
influenced not by sympathy for Frederick, but by hatred of France,
and by fear of the loss of Hanover. The British cabinet would abandon
Prussia the first moment it should see it to be for its interest to do

The King of Prussia had an army of two hundred thousand men under
perfect discipline. The Old Dessauer was dead, but many veteran
generals were in command. It was manifest that war would soon burst
forth. In addition to the personal pique of the Duchess of Pompadour,
who really ruled France, Louis XV. was greatly exasperated by the
secret alliance into which Frederick had entered with England. The
brother of the Prussian king, Augustus William, the heir-apparent
to the throne, disapproved of this alliance. He said to the French
minister, Valori, “I would give a finger from my hand had it never been

In July, 1756, Frederick, for form’s sake, inquired, through his
embassador at Vienna, why Maria Theresa was making such formidable
military preparations. At the same time he conferred with two of his
leading generals, Schwerin and Retzow, if it would not be better,
since it was certain that Austria and Russia would soon declare war,
to anticipate them by an attack upon Austria. The opinion of both,
which was in perfect accord with that of the king, was that it was best
immediately to seize upon Saxony, and in that rich and fertile country
to gather magazines, and make it the base for operations in Bohemia.

A spy was sent to Saxony, who reported that there were but twenty
thousand troops there. All necessary information was promptly and
secretly obtained in reference to roads and fortresses. It required
three weeks to receive an answer from Vienna. The reply was evasive,
as Frederick knew that it would be. In the mean time, his Prussian
majesty, with characteristic energy, had mustered on the frontier an
army numbering in the aggregate nearly one hundred and fifty thousand
men. These troops, in three divisions, with two thousand pieces of
artillery, were to make a rush upon Saxony. Among the directions given
by Frederick to the leaders of these divisions were the following:

“Each regiment shall take but one baggage-cart for a company. No
officer, whoever he may be or whatever his title, shall take with him
the least of silver plate, not even a silver spoon. Whoever wants to
keep table, great or small, must manage the same with tin utensils,
without exception, be he who he will.”

On the 25th of August, 1756, the king wrote from Potsdam to his
brother, the Prince of Prussia, and his sister Amelia, who were at
Berlin, as follows:

“MY DEAR BROTHER, MY DEAR SISTER, - I write you both at once for want
of time. I have as yet received no answer from Vienna. I shall not get
it till to-morrow. But I count myself surer of war than ever, as the
Austrians have named their generals, and their army is ordered to march
to Königgrätz. So that, expecting nothing else but a haughty answer, or
a very uncertain one, on which there will be no reliance possible, I
have arranged every thing for setting out on Saturday next.”

Upon the ensuing day, having received the answer from Vienna, he wrote
to his brother:

“You have seen the paper I have sent to Vienna. Their answer is, that
they have not made an offensive alliance with Russia against me. Of
the assurance that I required there is not one word, so that the sword
alone can cut this Gordian knot. I am innocent of this war. I have done
what I could to avoid it; but, whatever be one’s love of peace, one can
not, and one must not, sacrifice to that safety and honor. At present
our one thought must be to wage war in such a way as may cure our
enemies of their wish to break peace again too soon.”

On Saturday morning, August 28, 1756, the Prussian army, over one
hundred thousand strong, entered Saxony at three different points on
the northern frontier. Frederick, with about sixty thousand troops,
crossed the Elbe at Torgau, and seized upon Leipsic. Duke Ferdinand,
of Hanover, led his columns across the frontier about eighty miles to
the right. The Duke of Brunswick-Bevern crossed about the same distance
to the left. Each column was stronger than the whole Saxon army. The
appointed place of rendezvous for the three divisions was the city of
Dresden, the capital of Saxony. By the route marked out, each column
had a distance of about one hundred and fifty miles to traverse.


“Thus,” writes Voltaire, “Frederick invaded Saxony under the pretense
of friendship, and that he might make war upon Maria Theresa with the
money of which he should rob the Saxons.”

Not a soldier appeared to oppose the invaders. The Prussians seized,
in an unobstructed march, all the most important Saxon towns and
fortresses. The King of Poland and his court, with less than twenty
thousand troops, had fled from the capital up the river, which here
runs from the south to Pirna, where they concentrated their feeble
army, which numbered but eighteen thousand men. Frederick, with his
resistless column, entered Dresden on the 9th of September. The queen
had remained in the palace. The keys of the archives were demanded
of her. She refused to surrender them. The officers proceeded to
break open the door. The queen placed herself before the door. The
officers, shrinking from using personal violence, sent to Frederick
for instructions. He ordered them to force the archives, whatever
opposition the queen, in person, might present. The queen, to avoid a
rude assault, withdrew. The door was forced, and the archives seized.

“The king found,” writes Voltaire, “_testimonies of the dread which he
had occasioned_. The queen died soon after of grief. All Europe pitied
that unfortunate family. But in the course of those public calamities
millions of families experienced hardships not less great, though more

Thus was commenced the Seven Years’ War. It proved one of the most
bloody and cruel strifes which man has ever waged against his brother
man. Through its terrible scenes of conflagration, blood, and despair,
Frederick obtained the renown of being one of the ablest generals who
ever marshaled armies upon fields of blood.

His Polish majesty had placed his feeble band of troops in the vicinity
of Pirna, on the Elbe, amidst the defiles of a mountainous country,
where they could easily defend themselves against superior numbers.
Winter was rapidly approaching. In those high latitudes and among those
bleak hills the storms of winter ever raged with terrible severity. The
Austrians were energetically accumulating their forces in Bohemia to
act against the Prussians. The invasion of Saxony by Frederick, without
any apparent provocation, roused all Europe to intensity of hatred and
of action.

His Prussian majesty carefully examined the position of the Saxons.
They were in a region of precipices and chasms, broken into a labyrinth
of sky-piercing and craggy rocks. The eminences, in some cases, rose
two thousand feet, and were covered with pine forests. “There is no
stronger position in the world,” Frederick writes. All these passes
were fortified, mile after mile, by batteries, ramparts, palisades,
and abattis. But the Saxon troops, taken unawares, had but a small
supply of provisions. Frederick decided to block every entrance to
their encampment, and thus to starve them out. His Polish majesty sent
frantic cries to France and Austria for help. Frederick was assailed
with the title of the “Prussian robber.”

The Dauphiness of France was daughter of the King of Poland. With tears
she craved protection for her parents. The Duchess of Pompadour was
anxious to show her gratitude to Maria Theresa, who had condescended
to address her as a “cousin and a dear sister.” A French army of one
hundred thousand men was soon on the march to aid Austria in the
liberation of Saxony. At the same time, an Austrian army of sixty
thousand men, under Marshal Browne, was advancing rapidly from Bohemia
to penetrate the fastnesses of the mountains for the release of the
Polish king.

[Illustration: BATTLE OF LOBOSITZ, OCT. 1, 1756.

_a a. Prussian Infantry, b. Cavalry, c c. Artillery. d d. Austrian

On Friday, the 1st of October, 1756, the Prussian army under Frederick,
leaving the Saxons besieged in their encampment, marched up the river
to meet the foe advancing to the aid of the Saxons. They encountered
the Austrians, under Marshal Browne, at Lobositz, about thirty miles
south of Pirna. A terrible battle of seven hours’ duration ensued.
The opposing generals were of nearly equal ability. The soldiers were
equal in courage. The carnage of the bloody conflict was almost equal
on either side. The desperation of the Prussian assault was resistless.
Bayonet often crossed bayonet. The Austrians were driven from their
strong position into the city. The Prussians laid the city in ashes.
As the Austrians fled from the blazing streets, many, endeavoring to
swim across the Elbe, were drowned. At the close of this bloody strife
General Browne withdrew his army to the rear, where he still presented
a defiant front to the Prussians. He had lost from his ranks, in killed
and wounded, two thousand nine hundred and eighty-four. The loss of
Frederick was still greater; it numbered three thousand three hundred
and eight. Neither party would confess to a defeat.

“Never have my troops,” writes Frederick, “done such miracles of valor,
cavalry as well as infantry, since I had the honor to command them. By
this dead-lift achievement I have seen what they can do.”

The Prussians remained at Lobositz nearly a fortnight, to see if
Marshal Browne would again attempt to force the defiles. The Saxon
troops, for whose relief the Austrians were advancing, were about
thirty miles farther north, on the south, or left bank of the Elbe.
The news of the repulse of Marshal Browne at Lobositz fell disastrously
upon their starving ranks. Maria Theresa was much distressed. She sent
a messenger to her Austrian general to relieve the Saxons at whatever
cost. A confidential messenger was dispatched through the mountains
to the Saxon camp, which he reached in safety. He informed his Polish
majesty that Marshal Browne, with a picked force of eight thousand,
horse and foot, would march by a circuitous route of sixty miles, so as
to approach Pirna from the northeast, where but a small Prussian force
was stationed. He would be there without fail on the 11th of August.

The Saxons were directed to cross the Elbe, by a sudden and unexpected
march at Königstein, a few miles from Pirna. Immediately upon effecting
the passage of the river they were to fire two cannon as a signal
that the feat was accomplished. The Saxon and Austrian troops were
then to form a junction, and co-operate in crushing the few Prussian
bands which were left there as a guard. The Saxon troops would thus be
rescued from the trap in which they were inclosed, and from the famine
which was devouring them.

Marshal Browne skillfully and successfully performed his part of the
adventure. But there was no efficient co-operation by the Saxons. The
men were weak, emaciate, and perishing from hunger. Their sinews of
exertion were paralyzed. The skeleton horses could not draw the wagons
or the guns. To add to their embarrassment, a raging storm of wind and
rain burst upon the camp. The roads were converted into quagmires.
The night was pitch-dark as the Saxons, about fourteen thousand in
number, drenched with rain and groping through the mud, abandoned
their camp and endeavored to steal their way across the river. The
watchful Prussians detected the movement. A scene of confusion, terror,
slaughter ensued, which it is in vain to endeavor to describe. The
weeping skies and moaning winds indicated nature’s sympathy with these
scenes of woe. Still the unhappy Saxons struggled on heroically. After
seventy hours of toilsome marching and despairing conflict, these
unhappy peasant-lads, the victims of kingly pride, were compelled to
surrender at discretion. Marshal Browne, finding the enterprise an
utter failure, rapidly returned to the main body of his army.

Frederick was much embarrassed in deciding what to do with his
captives. They numbered about fourteen thousand. To guard and feed them
was too troublesome and expensive. They could not be exchanged, as
the King of Poland had no Prussian prisoners. To set them at liberty
would speedily place them in the Austrian ranks to fight against him.
Under these circumstances, Frederick compelled them all to enlist as
Prussian soldiers. He _compelled_ them to do this _voluntarily_, for
they had their choice either to enlist under his banners or to starve.
The King of Poland was permitted to return to Warsaw. The electorate of
Saxony, nearly as large as the State of Massachusetts, and containing
a population of one and a half millions, was annexed to Prussia. The
captured soldiers, prisoners of war, were dressed in Prussian uniform,
commanded by Prussian officers, and either placed in garrison or in the
ranks of the army in the field. The public voice of Europe condemned
Frederick very severely for so unprecedented an act.

“Think of the sounds,” writes Carlyle, “uttered from human windpipes,
shrill with rage, some of them, hoarse others with ditto; of the
vituperations, execrations, printed and vocal - grating harsh thunder
upon Frederick and this new course of his. Huge melody of discords,
shrieking, groaning, grinding on that topic through the afflicted
universe in general.”

Voltaire embraced the opportunity of giving vent to his malice in
epigrams and lampoons. Frederick was by no means insensible to public
opinion, but he was ever willing to brave that opinion if by so doing
he could accomplish his ambitious ends.

After this signal achievement his Prussian majesty established his
army in winter quarters along the banks of the Elbe. He took up his
abode in the palace of Dresden, awaiting the opening of the spring
campaign. Saxony was held with a tight grasp, and taxes and recruits
were gathered from the country as if it had always belonged to
Prussia. Frederick had hoped that his sudden campaign would have led
him into the heart of the Austrian states. Instead of this, though he

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 33 of 52)