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

History of Frederick the Second online

. (page 34 of 52)
Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 34 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


had wrested Saxony from Poland, he had given Austria ample time to
prepare her armies for a long war, and had roused all Europe to intense
hostility against him.

It became more and more manifest to Frederick that he must encounter
a terrible conflict upon the opening of the spring. Early in January
he took a short trip to Berlin, but soon returned to Dresden. Though
he avoided all appearance of anxiety, and kept up a cheerful air, he
was fully conscious of his peril. This is evident from the secret
instructions he left with his minister, Count Finck, upon his departure
from Berlin. The dispatch was dated January 10th, 1757:

“Should it chance that my army in Saxony were beaten, or that the
French should get possession of Hanover, and threaten us with invasion
from that quarter, or that the Russians should get through by Neumark,
you are to save the royal family and the archives. Should we be beaten
in Saxony, remove the royal family to Cüstrin. Should the Russians
enter by Neumark, or a misfortune befall us in the Lausitz, all must go
to Magdeburg, but not till the last extremity. The garrison, the royal
family, and the treasure must be kept together. In such a case, the
silver plate and the gold plate must at once be coined into money.

“If I am killed, affairs must go on without alteration. If I should
be taken prisoner, I forbid you from paying the least regard to my
person, or paying the least heed to what I may write from my place of
detention. Should such misfortune happen to me, I wish to sacrifice
myself for the state. You must obey my brother. He, as well as all my
ministers and generals, shall answer to me with their heads not to
offer any province or ransom for me, but to continue the war, pushing
their advances as if I had never existed in the world.”

Two days after committing this important document to Count Finck,
Frederick took leave of his mother and his brother. His mother he
never saw again. We have no evidence that on this visit he even called
upon his irreproachable, amiable, neglected wife. In preparation for
the worst, Frederick had provided poison for himself, and wore it
constantly about his person. It consisted of several small pills in a
glass tube. This fact is fully established.

All Europe, England alone excepted, was aroused against him. Armies
were every where being marshaled. The press of all continental Europe
was filled with denunciations of his crimes and encroachments. Not all
his efforts to assume a careless air could efface from his countenance
the impression left there by the struggles of his soul. His features,
as seen in a portrait painted about this time, are expressive of the
character of an anxious and unhappy man.

Early in the spring of 1757, France, Russia, Austria, Poland, and
Sweden were combined against Frederick. These countries represented a
population of one hundred millions. Frederick’s domains contained but
five millions. His annual revenue was but about ten million dollars.
He had an army in the field of one hundred and fifty thousand of the
best troops in the world. His fortresses were garrisoned by about fifty
thousand of inferior quality. The armies of the allies numbered four
hundred and thirty thousand. Frederick was regarded as an outlaw. The
design of the allies was to crush him, and to divide his territory
between them. Austria was to retake Silesia. France was to have the
Wesel-Cleve country. Russia was to annex to her domains Prussen,
Königsberg, etc. Poland, having regained Saxony, was to add to her
territory Magdeburg and Halle. Sweden was to have Pomerania. Never
before had there appeared such a combination against any man. The
situation of Frederick seemed desperate.

France was first in the field with a superb host of one hundred and ten
thousand men. The other powers speedily followed. In four great armies
of invasion these hosts pressed upon Prussia from the southeast and
southwest, the northeast and northwest. The Russian battalions were one
hundred thousand strong. The Austrian army was still more formidable.

It was supposed, that Frederick would remain in Saxony on the defensive
against the Austrians, who were rapidly gathering their army at Prague,
in Bohemia. The city was situated upon the River Moldau, one of the
tributaries of the Elbe, and was about sixty miles south of Dresden.

On the 20th of April, Frederick, having secretly placed his army in
the best possible condition, commenced a rapid march upon Prague, thus
plunging into the very heart of Bohemia. He advanced in three great
columns up the valley of the Elbe and the Moldau. His movements were
so rapid and unexpected that he seized several Austrian magazines
which they had not even time to burn. Three months’ provisions were
thus obtained for his whole army. The first column, under the king,
was sixty thousand strong. The second column, led by General Bevern,
numbered twenty-three thousand, horse and foot. The third, under
Marshal Schwerin, counted thirty-two thousand foot and twelve thousand
horse. On the 2d of May the banners of Frederick were seen from the
steeples of Prague. They appeared floating from the heights of the
Weissenberg, a few miles west of the city. At the same time, the other
two columns, which had united under Marshal Schwerin, appeared on the
east side of the Moldau, upon both banks of which the city is built.

[Illustration: THE BATTLE OF PRAGUE, MAY 6, 1757.

_a a a. First position of Austrian Army. b b b. Second position
to meet the Prussian Attack. c. Prussians under Keith. d d. First
position of Prussian Army. e e. Second position of Prussian
Army. f. Schwerin’s Prussians. g. Prussian Horse. h. Mannstein’s
Attack. i. Place of Schwerin’s Monument._]

On the 5th of May, after careful reconnoissance, Frederick crossed
the Moldau several miles north of Prague. He went over upon pontoons
unopposed, and thus effected a junction with his troops on the east
side of the river. The Austrian army was drawn up on some formidable
heights but a short distance east of the city. Their position was very
strong, and they were thoroughly intrenched. On the 6th of May the
dreadful battle of Prague was fought. For many years, as not a few of
our readers will remember, it was fought over and over again upon all
the pianos in Christendom. They will remember the awe with which, as
children, they listened to the tumult of the battle, swelling forth
from the ivory keys, with the rattle of musketry, the booming of the
cannon, and the groans of the dying - such groans as even the field of
battle itself could scarcely have rivaled.

The final and decisive struggle took place on and around two important
eminences, called the Sterbohol Hill and the Homoly Hill. Both of these
heights the Prussians stormed. In the following glowing words Carlyle
pictures the scene:

“Fearful tugging, swagging, and swaying is conceivable in this
Sterbohol problem! And, after long scanning, I rather judge that it was
in the wake of that first repulse that the veteran Schwerin himself got
his death. No one times it for us; but the fact is unforgetable; and in
the dim whirl of sequences dimly places itself there. Very certain it
is ‘at sight of his own regiment in retreat,’ Field-marshal Schwerin
seized the colors, as did other generals, who are not named, that
day. Seizes the colors, fiery old man: ‘This way, my sons!’ and rides
ahead along the straight dam again; his ‘sons’ all turning, and with
hot repentance following. ‘On, my children, this way!’ Five bits of
grape-shot, deadly each of them, at once hit the old man; dead he sinks
there on his flag; and will never fight more.

“‘This way!’ storm the others with hot tears; Adjutant Von Platen takes
the flag: Platen too is instantly shot; but another takes it. ‘This
way, on!’ in wild storm of rage and grief; in a word, they managed to
do the work at Sterbohol, they and the rest. First line, second line,
infantry, cavalry (and even the very horses, I suppose), fighting
inexpressibly; conquering one of the worst problems ever seen in war.
For the Austrians too, especially their grenadiers there, stood to it
toughly, and fought like men; and ‘every grenadier that survived of
them,’ as I read afterward, ‘got double pay for life.’

“Done, that Sterbohol work; those foot-chargings, horse-chargings; that
battery of Homoly Hill; and, hanging upon that, all manner of redoubts
and batteries to the rightward and rearward; but how it was done no
pen can describe, nor any intellect in clear sequence understand. An
enormous _mêlée_ there: new Prussian battalions charging, and ever
new, irrepressible by case-shot, as they successively get up; Marshal
Browne, too, sending for new battalions at double-quick from his left,
disputing stiffly every inch of his ground, till at length (hour not
given), a cannon shot tore away his foot, and he had to be carried
into Prague, mortally wounded. Which probably was a most important
circumstance, or the most important of all.”

“This battle,” writes Frederick, “which began toward nine in the
morning, was one of the bloodiest of the age. The enemy lost
twenty-four thousand men, of whom four thousand were prisoners. The
Prussian loss amounted to eighteen thousand fighting men, without
counting Marshal Schwerin, who was alone worth above ten thousand. This
day saw the pillars of the Prussian infantry cut down.”

Immediately after the battle, Frederick wrote rather a stately letter
to his mother, informing her of his victory, and that he was about to
pursue the foe with a hundred and fifty thousand men. Fifty thousand
of the defeated Austrians entered Prague, and stood at bay behind its
ramparts. Frederick seized all the avenues, that no provisions could
enter the city, convinced that starvation, combined with a vigorous
assault, would soon compel the garrison to surrender themselves, the
city, and all its magazines. On the 9th of May the bombardment with
red-hot balls commenced. The siege lasted six weeks, creating an
amount of misery over which angels might weep. The balls of fire were
constantly kindling wide and wasting conflagrations. Soon a large
portion of the city presented only a heap of smouldering ruins.

Besides the garrison of fifty thousand there were eighty thousand
inhabitants in the city, men, women, and children. Large numbers
perished. Some died of starvation; some were burned to death in their
blazing dwellings; some were torn to pieces by shot and shell; some
were buried beneath the ruins of their houses. In the stillness of the
night the wails and groans of the sufferers were borne on the breeze to
the ears of the Prussians in their intrenched camp. Starvation brought
pestilence, which caused the death of thousands. The inhabitants,
reduced to this state of awful misery, entreated the Austrian general
to surrender. He refused, but forced out of the gates twelve thousand
skeleton, starving people, who consumed the provisions, but could not
contribute to the defense. Frederick drove the poor creatures back
again at the point of the bayonet, threatening to shoot them all. The
cruel act was deemed a necessity of war.

Maria Theresa, anxious to save Prague, sent an army of sixty thousand
men under General Daun to its relief. This army, on the rapid march,
had reached Kolin, about fifty miles east of Prague. Should General
Daun, as was his plan, attack Frederick in the rear, while the fifty
thousand in Prague should sally out and attack him in front, ruin would
be almost inevitable. Frederick, gathering thirty-four thousand men,
marched rapidly to Kolin and attacked the foe with the utmost possible
fierceness. The Austrians not only nearly twice outnumbered him, but
were also in a very commanding position, protected by earthworks. Never
did men fight more reckless of life than did the Prussians upon this
occasion.

“And so from right wing to left,” writes Carlyle, “miles long there
is now universal storm of volleying, bayonet charging, thunder of
artillery, case-shot, cartridge-shot, and sulphurous devouring
whirlwind; the wrestle very tough and furious, especially on the
assaulting side. Here, as at Prague, the Prussian troops were one and
all in the fire, each doing strenuously his utmost. There is no reserve
left. All is gone up into one combustion. To fan the fire, to be here,
there, fanning the fire where need shows, this is now Frederick’s
function. This death-wrestle lasted, perhaps, four hours; till seven,
or perhaps eight o’clock, of a June evening.”

Frederick exposed himself like a common soldier. Indeed, it sometimes
seems that, in the desperate state of his affairs, he sought the
fatal bullet. All his efforts against the Austrians were in vain. The
Prussians were repulsed with dreadful slaughter. After losing fourteen
thousand men in killed, wounded, and prisoners, forty-five cannon,
and twenty-two flags, Frederick was compelled to order a retreat.
His magnificent regiment of guards, one thousand in number, picked
men, undoubtedly the best body of troops in the world, was almost
annihilated. The loss of the Austrians was about nine thousand men.
They were so accustomed to be defeated by Frederick that they were
equally surprised and delighted by this dearly-earned victory. The
following plan will give the military reader an idea of the position of
the hostile forces.

Still the conquerors had such dread of their foe that they dared not
emerge from their ramparts to pursue him. Had they done so, they
might easily have captured or slain his whole army. Frederick bore
adversity with great apparent equanimity. He did not for a moment lose
self-control, or manifest any agitation. With great skill he conducted
his retreat. Immediately after the battle he wrote to his friend Lord
Marischall:

“Prosperity, my dear lord, often inspires a dangerous confidence.
Twenty-three battalions were not sufficient to drive sixty
thousand men from their intrenchments. Another time we will take
our precautions better. Fortune has this day turned her back
upon me. I ought to have expected it. She is a female, and I am
not gallant. What say you to this league against the Margrave of
Brandenburg? How great would be the astonishment of the great
elector if he could see his great-grandson at war at the same
time with the Russians, the Austrians, almost all Germany, and
one hundred thousand French auxiliaries! I do not know whether
it will be disgraceful in me to be overcome, but I am sure there
will be no great glory in vanquishing me.”[102]

[Illustration: BATTLE OF KOLIN, JUNE 18, 1757.

_a a. Austrian Army, b b. Prussian Army. c. Ziethen’s Hussars. d.
Nadasti’s Hussars. e. The Oak Wood._]

Frederick retreated down the banks of the Elbe, and sent couriers to
the camp at Prague, ordering the siege immediately to be raised, and
the troops to retire down the Moldau to join him at Leitmeritz. The
news was received at the camp at two o’clock on Sunday morning, June
19, creating amazement and consternation. As Frederick was on his
retreat with his broken battalions from the field of battle, parched
with thirst, burning with heat, and smothered with dust, it is recorded
that an old dragoon brought to the king, in his steel cap, some water
which he had drawn from a well, saying to his sovereign, consolingly,

“Never mind, sire, God Almighty and we will mend this yet. The enemy
may get a victory for once, but that does not send us to the devil.”

At Nimburg, about twenty miles from Kolin, where the retiring Prussians
were crossing the Elbe, Frederick sat upon a green mound, lost in
thought, as his troops defiled before him. He was scratching figures
upon the sand with his stick.

[Illustration: AFTER THE DEFEAT.]

“Raising his eyes,” says Archenholtz, “he surveyed, with speechless
emotion, the small remnant of his life-guard of foot, his favorite
battalion. It was one thousand strong yesterday morning, hardly four
hundred now. All the soldiers of this chosen battalion were personally
known to him - their names, their age, their native place, their
history. In one day death had mowed them down. They had fought like
heroes, and it was for him they had died. His eyes were visibly wet.
Down his face rolled silent tears.”

Suddenly dashing the tears away, he issued his swift orders, and,
mounting his horse, galloped to Prague, where he arrived Sunday
evening. The next day the siege was raised, and the besieging troops
were on the retreat north into Saxony. The whole army was soon
rendezvoused at Leitmeritz, on the Elbe, about thirty miles south of
Dresden. Here Frederick awaited the development of the next movement of
his foes.

He had hardly arrived at Leitmeritz ere he received the tidings of
the death of Sophia Dorothea, his mother. She died at Berlin on the
28th of June, 1757, in the seventy-first year of her age. This grief,
coming in the train of disasters which seemed to be overwhelming his
Prussian majesty, affected him very deeply. Frederick was subdued and
softened by sorrow. He remembered the time when a mother’s love rocked
his cradle, and wrapped him around with tender care. The reader will
be surprised to learn that his grief - perhaps with some comminglings
of remorse - was so great that he shut himself in his closet, and wept
with sobbings like a child.




CHAPTER XXVI.

DEFEATS AND PERILS.

Grief of the King over his Mother’s Death. - Interesting Letters. -
Forces in the Field. - The March upon Dresden. - Devotion of
Wilhelmina. - Atheism of the King. - Wilhelmina to Voltaire. -
Despair of Frederick. - Great Victory of Rossbach. - Description of
the Battle. - Utter Rout of the Allies. - Elation of Frederick. - His
Poem on the Occasion. - Ravages of War.


The tidings of the death of the king’s mother reached him on the 2d
of July, 1757. Sir Andrew Mitchell, the English embassador in Berlin,
gives the following account of an interview he had with Frederick on
that occasion:

“Yesterday, July 3d, the king sent for me, in the afternoon, the first
time he has seen any body since the news came. I had the honor to
remain with him in his closet. I must own I was most sensibly affected
to see him indulging his grief, and giving way to the warmest filial
affections; recalling to mind the many obligations he had to her late
majesty; all she had suffered, and how nobly she had borne it; the good
she did to every body; the one comfort he now had, that he tried to
make her last years more agreeable.”

[Illustration: SOPHIA DOROTHEA.]

On the 1st of July, the day before the king heard of his mother’s
death, he wrote to Wilhelmina, in reply to a letter from her which
expressed great anxiety on his account:

“Dear sister, fear nothing on my score. Men are always in the hand
of what we call destiny. Accidents will befall people walking on the
streets, sitting in their room, lying on their bed; and there are many
who escape the perils of war.”

Again, on the 5th of July, he wrote: “I write to apprise you, my dear
sister, of the new grief that overwhelms us. We have no longer a
mother. This loss puts the crown on my sorrows. I am obliged to act,
and have not time to give free course to my tears. Judge, I pray you,
of the situation of a feeling heart put to so severe a trial. All
losses in the world are capable of being remedied, but those which
death causes are beyond the reach of hope.”

On the 7th of July he wrote again to Wilhelmina. The letter reveals
the anxiety of his heart, and his earnest desire to escape, if
possible, from his embarrassments. Wilhelmina had written, offering her
services to endeavor to secure peace. The king replied:

“You are too good. I am ashamed to abuse your indulgence. But do, since
you are willing, try and sound the French, and learn what conditions of
peace they would demand. Send that Mirabeau[103] to France. Willingly
will I pay the expense. He may offer as much as five million thalers
[$3,750,000] to the Favorite[104] for peace alone.”

Soon after this, Frederick again wrote to his sister a letter which
throws so much light upon his character that we give it almost entire:

“Leitmeritz, July 13, 1757.

“MY DEAR SISTER, - Your letter has arrived. I see in it your
regrets for the irreparable loss we have had of the best and
worthiest mother in this world. I am so overwhelmed by these
blows from within and without that I feel myself in a sort of
stupefaction.

“The French have seized upon Friesland, and are about to pass the
Weser. They have instigated the Swedes to declare war against me.
The Swedes are sending seventeen thousand men into Pomerania. The
Russians are besieging Memel. General Schwald has them on his
front and in his rear. The troops of the empire are also about to
march. All this will force me to evacuate Bohemia so soon as that
crowd of enemies gets into motion.

“I am firmly resolved on the utmost efforts to save my country.
Happy the moment when I took to training myself in philosophy.
There is nothing else that can sustain a soul in a situation
like mine. I spread out to you, my dear sister, the detail of my
sorrows. If these things regarded myself only, I could stand it
with composure. But I am the bound guardian of the happiness of a
people which has been put under my charge. There lies the sting
of it. And I shall have to reproach myself with every fault if,
by delay or by overhaste, I occasion the smallest accident.

“I am in the condition of a traveler who sees himself surrounded
and ready to be assassinated by a troop of cut-throats, who
intend to share his spoils. Since the league of Cambrai[105]
there is no example of such a conspiracy as that infamous
triumvirate, Austria, France, Russia, now forms against me. Was
it ever before seen that three great princes laid plot in concert
to destroy a fourth who had done nothing against them? I have not
had the least quarrel either with France or with Russia, still
less with Sweden.

“Happy, my dear sister, is the obscure man whose good sense, from
youth upward, has renounced all sorts of glory; who, in his safe
and humble place, has none to envy him, and whose fortune does
not excite the cupidity of scoundrels. But these reflections are
vain. We have to be what our birth, which decides, has made us in
entering upon this world.

“I beg a thousand pardons, my dear sister. In these three long
pages I talk to you of nothing but my troubles and affairs. A
strange abuse it would be of any other person’s friendship. But
yours, my dear sister, is known to me; and I am persuaded that
you are not impatient when I open to you my heart - a heart
which is yours altogether, being filled with sentiments of the
tenderest esteem, with which I am, my dearest sister, your

“FREDERICK.”

At this time the whole disposable force of his Prussian majesty did not
exceed eighty thousand men. There were marching against him combined
armies of not less, in the aggregate, than four hundred thousand.
A part of the Prussian army, about thirty thousand strong, under
the king’s eldest brother, Augustus William, Prince of Prussia, was
sent north, especially to protect Zittau, a very fine town of about
ten thousand inhabitants, where Frederick had gathered his chief
magazines. Prince Charles, with seventy thousand Austrians, pursued
this division. He outgeneraled the Prince of Prussia, drove him into
wild country roads, took many prisoners, captured important fortresses,
and, opening a fire of red-hot shot upon Zittau, laid the whole place,
with its magazines, in ashes. The Prince of Prussia, who witnessed
the conflagration which he could not prevent, retreated precipitately
toward Lobau, and thence to Bautzen, with his army in a deplorable
condition of exhaustion and destitution.

Here Frederick, with the remainder of the army from Leitmeritz, joined
his brother, against whom he was greatly incensed, attributing the
disasters he had encountered to his incapacity. At four o’clock of the
30th of July the king met the Prince of Prussia and the other generals
of the discomfited army. Both parties approached the designated spot
on horseback. The king, who was accompanied by his suite, upon his
arrival within about two hundred feet of the place where his brother,
with his officers, was awaiting him, without saluting the prince or
recognizing him in the slightest degree, dismounted, and threw himself



Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 34 of 52)