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History of Frederick the Second online

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in a reclining posture upon the greensward. General Goltz was then sent
with the following message to the prince:

“His majesty commands me to inform your royal highness that he has
cause to be greatly discontented with you; that you deserve to have
a court-martial held over you, which would sentence you and all your
generals to death; but that his majesty will not carry the matter so
far, being unable to forget that in the chief general he has a brother.”

Augustus William, overwhelmed by his disgrace, and yet angered by the
rebuke, coldly replied that he desired only that a court-martial should
investigate the case and pronounce judgment. The king forbade that
any intercourse whatever should take place between his own troops,
soldiers, or officers, and those of his brother, who, he declared, had
utterly degraded themselves by the loss of all courage and ambition.
The prince sent to the king General Schultz to obtain the countersign
for the army. Frederick refused to receive him, saying “that he had no
countersign to send to cowards.” Augustus William then went himself
to present his official report and a list of his troops. Frederick
took the papers without saying a word, and then turned his back upon
his brother. This cruel treatment fell with crushing force upon the
unhappy prince. Conscious of military failure, disgraced in the eyes of
his generals and soldiers, and abandoned by the king, his health and
spirits alike failed him. The next morning he wrote a sad, respectfully
reproachful letter to Frederick, stating that his health rendered it
necessary for him to retire for a season from the army to recruit.
The reply of the king, which was dated Bautzen, July 30, 1757, shows
how desperate he, at that time, considered the state of his affairs.
Hopeless of victory, he seems to have sought only death.

“MY DEAR BROTHER, - Your bad conduct has greatly injured my
affairs. It is not the enemy, but your ill-concerted measures,
which have done me this harm. My generals also are inexcusable,
whether they gave you bad advice or only suffered you to come
to such injudicious resolutions. In this sad situation it only
remains for me to make a last attempt. I must hazard a battle. If
we can not conquer, we must all of us have ourselves killed.

“I do not complain of your heart, but of your incapacity, and
of the little judgment you have shown in making your decisions.
A man who has but a few days to live need not dissemble. I wish
you better fortune than mine has been, and that all the miseries
and bad adventures you have had may teach you to treat important
matters with greater care, sense, and resolution than you have
hitherto done. The greatest part of the calamities which I now
apprehend comes only from you. You and your children will suffer
more from them than I shall. Be persuaded, nevertheless, that I
have always loved you, and that with these sentiments I shall die.


Upon the reception of this letter, the prince, without replying to it,
verbally asked leave, through one of his officers, to throw up his
commission and retire to his family in Berlin. The king scornfully
replied, “Let him go; he is fit for nothing else.” In the deepest
dejection the prince returned to his home. Rapidly his health failed,
and before the year had passed away, as we shall have occasion
hereafter to mention, he sank into the grave, deploring his unhappy lot.

Frederick speedily concentrated all his strength at Bautzen, and
strove to draw the Austrians into a battle; but in vain. The heights
upon which they were intrenched, bristling with cannon, he could
not venture to assail. After three weeks of impatient manœuvring,
Frederick gathered his force of fifty thousand men close in hand, and
made a sudden rush upon Bernstadt, about fifty miles to the east of
Bautzen. Here he surprised an Austrian division, scattered it to the
winds, seized all its baggage, and took a number of prisoners. He also
captured the field equipage, coach, horses, etc., of General Nadasti,
who narrowly escaped.

The French, advancing from the Rhine on the west, were sweeping all
opposition before them. They had overrun Hanover, and compelled the
Duke of Brunswick, brother of George II., to withdraw, with his
Hanoverian troops, from the alliance with the King of Prussia. This was
a terrible blow to Frederick. It left him entirely alone to encounter
his swarming enemies.

The Prince of Soubise had rendezvoused fifty thousand French and Saxon
troops at Erfurt, about a hundred and seventy miles west of Dresden.
He had also, scattered around at different posts, easily accessible, a
hundred thousand more well-armed and well-disciplined troops. Frederick
took twenty-three thousand men and marched to assail these foes in
almost despairing battle. To plunge with so feeble a band into such a
mass of enemies seemed to be the extreme of recklessness.

On the 30th of August Frederick commenced his march from Dresden.
Great caution was requisite, and great military skill, in so bold an
adventure. On the 13th of September he reached Erfurt. The Prince of
Soubise, aware of the prowess of his antagonist, retired to the hills
and intrenched himself, waiting until he could accumulate forces which
would render victory certain. Frederick had now with him his second
brother, Henry, who seems to have very fully secured his confidence. On
the 16th of September the king wrote:

“My brother Henry has gone to see the Duchess of Gotha to-day. I am so
oppressed with grief that I would rather keep my sadness to myself.
I have reason to congratulate myself much on account of my brother
Henry. He has behaved like an angel, as a soldier, and well toward me
as a brother. I can not, unfortunately, say the same of the elder. He
sulks at me, and has sulkily retired to Torgau, from which place he has
gone to Wittenberg. I shall leave him to his caprices and to his bad
conduct; and I prophesy nothing for the future unless the younger guide

In these hours of trouble the noble Wilhelmina was as true to her
brother as the magnet to the pole. She was appalled by no dangers,
and roused all her energies to aid that brother, struggling, with the
world arrayed against him. The king appreciated his sister’s love. In a
poetic epistle addressed to her, composed in these hours of adversity,
he wrote:

“Oh sweet and dear hope of my remaining days! oh sister whose
friendship, so fertile in resources, shares all my sorrows, and with a
helpful arm assists me in the gulf! it is in vain that the destinies
have overwhelmed me with disasters. If the crowd of kings have sworn my
ruin, if the earth have opened to swallow me, you still love me, noble
and affectionate sister. Loved by you, what is there of misfortune?”

In conclusion, he gives utterance to that gloomy creed of infidelity
and atheism which he had adopted instead of the Christian faith. “Thus
destiny with a deluge of torments fills the poisoned remnants of my
days. The present is hideous to me, the future unknown. Do you say
that I am the creature of a beneficent being? I see that all men are
the sport of destiny. And if there do exist some gloomy and inexorable
being who allows a despised herd of creatures to go on multiplying
here, he values them as nothing. He looks down on our virtues, our
misdeeds, on the horrors of war, and on all the cruel plagues which
ravage earth, as a thing indifferent to him. Wherefore my sole refuge
and only haven, loved sister, is in the arms of death.”[106]

Twenty years before this, Frederick, in a letter to his friend Baron
Suhm, dated June 6, 1736, had expressed the belief that, while the
majority of the world perished at death, a few very distinguished men
might be immortal.

“The thought alone,” he wrote, “of your death, my dear Suhm, affords me
an argument in proof of the immortality of the soul. For is it possible
that the spirit which acts in you with so much clearness, brightness,
and intelligence, which is so different from matter and from
body - that fine soul endowed with so many solid virtues and agreeable
qualities - is it possible that this should not be immortal? No! I would
maintain in solid argument that, if the greatest part of the world were
to be annihilated, you, Voltaire, Boileau, Newton, Wolfius, and some
other geniuses of this order must be immortal.”[107]

Now, however, Frederick, in that downward path through which the
rejecters of Christianity invariably descend, had reached the point
at which he renounced all belief in the immortality of the soul and
in the existence of God. In a poetic epistle addressed to Marshal
Keith, he declares himself a materialist, and affirms his unwavering
conviction that the soul, which he says is but the result of the bodily
organization, perishes with that body. He declares suicide to be the
only remedy for man in his hour of extremity.

Wilhelmina, in her distress in view of the peril of her brother, wrote
to Voltaire, hoping that he might be persuaded to exert an influence in
his favor.

“The king, my brother,” she wrote, “supports his misfortunes with a
courage and a firmness worthy of him. I am in a frightful state, and
will not survive the destruction of my house and family. That is the
one consolation that remains to me. I can not write farther of it.
My soul is so troubled that I know not what I am doing. To me there
remains nothing but to follow his destiny if it is unfortunate. I have
never piqued myself on being a philosopher, though I have made many
efforts to become so. The small progress I made did teach me to despise
grandeur and riches. _But I could never find in philosophy any cure for
the wounds of the heart, except that of getting done with our miseries
by ceasing to live._ The state I am in is worse than death. I see the
greatest man of his age, my brother, my friend, reduced to the most
frightful extremity. I see my whole family exposed to dangers and,
perhaps, destruction. Would to Heaven I were alone loaded with all the
miseries I have described to you.”

Five days after this letter was written to Voltaire by Wilhelmina from
Baireuth, Frederick, on the 17th of September, 1757, wrote his sister
from near Erfurt. This letter, somewhat abbreviated, was as follows:

“MY DEAREST SISTER, - I find no other consolation but in your
precious letters. May Heaven[108] reward so much virtue and such
heroic sentiments! Since I wrote you last my misfortunes have but
gone on accumulating. It seems as though destiny would discharge
all its wrath and fury upon the poor country which I had to
rule over. I have advanced this way to fall upon a corps of the
allied army, which has run off and intrenched itself among hills,
whither to follow, still more to attack them, all rules of war
forbid. The moment I retire toward Saxony this whole swarm will
be upon my heels. Happen what may, I am determined, at all risks,
to fall upon whatever corps of the enemy approaches me nearest. I
shall even bless Heaven for its mercy if it grant me the favor to
die sword in hand.

“Should this hope fail me, you will allow that it would be too
hard to crawl at the feet of a company of traitors to whom
successful crimes have given the advantage to prescribe the law
to me. If I had followed my own inclinations I should have put an
end to myself at once after that unfortunate battle which I lost.
But I felt that this would be weakness, and that it behooved
me to repair the evil which had happened. But no sooner had I
hastened this way to face new enemies than Winterfield was beaten
and killed near Gorlitz; than the French entered the heart of my
states; than the Swedes blockaded Stettin. Now there is nothing
effective left for me to do. There are too many enemies. Were I
even to succeed in beating two armies, the third would crush me.
As for you, my incomparable sister, I have not the heart to turn
you from your resolves. We think alike, and I can not condemn
in you the sentiments which I daily entertain. Life has been
given us as a benefit. When it ceases to be such - I have nobody
left in this world to attach me to it but you. My friends, the
relations I loved most, are in the grave. In short, I have lost
every thing. If you take the resolution which I have taken, we
end together our misfortunes and our unhappiness.

“But it is time to end this long, dreary letter. I have had some
leisure, and have used it to open to you a heart filled with
admiration and gratitude toward you. Yes, my adorable sister, if
Providence troubled itself about human affairs, you ought to be
the happiest person in the universe. Your not being such confirms
me in the sentiments expressed in my epistle.”

In his “epistle” Frederick had expressed the opinion that there was
no God who took any interest in human affairs. He had also repeatedly
expressed the resolve to Wilhelmina, and to Voltaire, to whom he had
become partially reconciled, that he was prepared to commit suicide
should events prove as disastrous as he had every reason to expect they
would prove. He had also urged his sister to follow his example, and
not to survive the ruin of the family. Such was the support which the
king, in hours of adversity, found in that philosophy for which he had
discarded the religion of Jesus Christ.

On the 15th of September, two days before Frederick had written the
despairing letter we have just given, Wilhelmina wrote again to him, in
response to previous letters, and to his poetic epistle.

“MY DEAREST BROTHER, - Your letter and the one you wrote to
Voltaire have nearly killed me. What fatal resolutions, great
God! Ah! my dear brother, you say you love me, and you drive a
dagger into my heart. Your epistle, which I did receive, made
me shed rivers of tears. I am now ashamed of such weakness.
My misfortune would be so great that I should find worthier
resources than tears. Your lot shall be mine. I shall not survive
your misfortunes, or those of the house I belong to. You may
calculate that such is my firm resolution.

“But, after this avowal, allow me to entreat you to look back at
what was the pitiable state of your enemy when you lay before
Prague. It is the sudden whirl of fortune for both parties. The
like can occur again when one is the least expecting it. Cæsar
was the slave of pirates, and yet he became master of the world.
A great genius like yours finds resources even when all is lost.

“I suffer a thousand times more than I can tell you.
Nevertheless, hope does not abandon me. I am obliged to finish.
But I shall never cease to be, with the most profound respect,


On the 11th of October an express courier reached Frederick’s camp with
the alarming intelligence that an Austrian division of fifteen thousand
men was on the march for Berlin. The city was but poorly fortified, and
held a garrison of but four thousand troops. Frederick had no doubt
that the Austrian army was acting in co-operation with other forces of
the allies, advancing upon his metropolis from the east, north, and
west. Immediately he collected all his available troops and commenced
a rapid march for the protection of his capital. In the mean time
Wilhelmina had heard of this new peril. A rumor also had reached her
that there had been a battle, and that her brother was wounded. The
following letter reveals the anguish of her heart:

“Baireuth, October 15, 1757.

“MY DEAREST BROTHER, - Death and a thousand torments could not
equal the frightful state I am in. There run reports that make
me shudder. Some say that you are wounded, others that you are
dangerously ill. In vain have I tormented myself to have news
of you. I can get none. Oh, my dear brother, come what may, I
will not survive you. If I am to continue in this frightful
uncertainty, I can not stand it. In the name of God, bid some one
write to me.

“I know not what I have written. My heart is torn in pieces.
I feel that by dint of disquietude and alarms I am losing my
senses. Oh, my dear, adorable brother, have pity on me. The least
thing that concerns you pierces me to the heart. Might I die a
thousand deaths provided you lived and were happy! I can say no
more. Grief chokes me. I can only repeat that your fate shall be
mine; being, my dear brother, your


It turned out that the rumor of the march upon Berlin was greatly
exaggerated. General Haddick, with an Austrian force of but four
thousand men, by a sudden rush through the woods, seized the suburbs of
Berlin. The terrified garrison, supposing that an overwhelming force
of the allied army was upon them, retreated, with the royal family and
effects, to Spandau. General Haddick, having extorted a ransom of about
one hundred and forty thousand dollars from the city, and “_two dozen
pair of gloves_ for the empress queen,” and learning that a division
of Frederick’s army was fast approaching, fled precipitately. Hearing
of this result, the king arrested his steps at Torgau, and returned to
Leipsic. The Berliners asserted that “the two dozen pair of gloves were
all gloves for the left hand.”

Frederick reached Leipsic on the 26th of October. The allied forces
were rapidly concentrating in overwhelming numbers around him. On the
30th the king marched to the vicinity of Lutzen, where he encamped for
the night. General Soubise, though in command of a force outnumbering
that of the Prussians nearly three to one, retreated rapidly to the
west before Frederick, and crossed the River Saale. Frederick followed,
and effected the passage of the stream with but little opposition.


After some manœuvring, the hostile forces met upon a wide, dreary,
undulating plain, with here and there a hillock, in the vicinity of
Rossbach. Frederick had twenty thousand men. The French general, Prince
Soubise, had sixty thousand. The allies now felt sure of their prey.
Their plan was to surround Frederick, destroy his army, and take him a
prisoner. On the morning of the 5th of November the two hostile armies
were nearly facing each other, a few miles west of the River Saale. A
party of Austrians was sent by the general of the allies to destroy the
bridges upon the river in the rear of the Prussians, that their retreat
might be cut off. Frederick, from a house-top, eagerly watched the
movement of his foes. To his surprise and great satisfaction, he soon
saw the whole allied army commencing a circuitous march around his left
to fall upon him in his rear.

Instantly, and “like a change of scene in the opera,” the Prussians
were on the rapid march to the east in as perfect order as if on
parade. Taking advantage of an eminence called James Hill, which
concealed their movements from the allies, Frederick hurled his whole
concentrated force upon the flank of the van of the army on the
advance. He thus greatly outnumbered his foes at the point of attack.
The enemy, taken by surprise in their long line of march, had no time
to form.

“Compact as a wall, and with an incredible velocity, Seidlitz, in
the blaze of rapid steel, is in upon them.” From the first it was
manifest that the destruction of the advance-guard was certain. The
Prussian cavalry slashed through it again and again, throwing it into
inextricable disorder. In less than half an hour this important portion
of the allied troops was put to utter rout, “tumbling off the ground,
plunging down hill in full flight, across its own infantry, or whatever
obstacle, Seidlitz on the hips of it, and galloping madly over the

[Illustration: BATTLE OF ROSSBACH, NOVEMBER 5, 1757.

_a a. First Position of Combined Army. b b. First Position of
Prussian Camp. c c. Advance of Prussian Army. d d. Second
Position of Combined Army. e e. Prussians retire to Rossbach.
f. French Cavalry, under St. Germain. g g. March of Combined Army
to attack Prussian Rear. h. Prussian Attack led by Seidlitz.
i. Position of Prussian Guns._]

And now the Prussian artillery, eighteen heavy guns, opened a rapid
and murderous fire upon the disordered mass, struggling in vain to
deploy in line of battle. Infantry, artillery, cavalry, all were at
work, straining every nerve, one mighty mind controlling and guiding
the terrible mechanism in its death-dealing blows. The French regiments
were jammed together. The Prussians, at forty paces, opened a platoon
fire of musketry, five shots a minute. At the same moment the impetuous
Seidlitz, with his triumphant and resistless dragoons, plunged upon
the rear. The centre of the allied army was thus annihilated. It was
no longer a battle, but a rout and a massacre. In twenty minutes this
second astonishing feat was accomplished.

The whole allied army was now put wildly to flight, in one of the
most humiliating and disastrous retreats which has ever occurred.
There is generally some slight diversity of statement in reference to
the numbers engaged on such occasions. Frederick gives sixty-three
thousand as the allied force. The allies lost, in killed, wounded, and
missing, about ten thousand men. The loss of the Prussians was but five
hundred. The French, in a tumultuous mass, fled to the west. Crossing
the Unstrut River at Freiburg, they burned the bridge behind them. The
Prussians rebuilt the bridge, and vigorously pursued. The evening after
the battle the king wrote as follows to Wilhelmina. His letter was
dated “Near Weissenfels.”

“At last, my dear sister, I can announce to you a bit of good
news. You were doubtless aware that the Coopers with their
circles had a mind to take Leipsic. I ran up and drove them
beyond Saale. They called themselves 63,000 strong. Yesterday I
went to reconnoitre them; could not attack them in the post they
held. This rendered them rash. To-day they came out to attack me.
It was a battle after one’s own heart. Thanks to God,[109] I have
not one hundred men killed. My brother Henry and General Seidlitz
have slight hurts. We have all the enemy’s cannon. I am in full
march to drive them over the Unstrut. You, my dear sister, my
good, my divine, my affectionate sister, who deign to interest
yourself in the fate of a brother who adores you, deign also to
share my joy. The instant I have time I will tell you more. I
embrace you with my whole heart. Adieu.


Voltaire, speaking of this conflict, says, “It was the most
inconceivable and complete rout and discomfiture of which history
makes any mention. Thirty thousand French and twenty thousand imperial
troops were there seen making a disgraceful and precipitate flight
before five battalions and a few squadrons. The defeats of Agincourt,
Cressy, and Poitiers were not so humiliating.”[110]

As usual, Frederick wrote a poem upon the occasion. It was vulgar
and profane. Carlyle says of it, “The author, with a wild burst of
spiritual enthusiasm, sings the charms of the rearward part of certain
men. He rises to the height of anti-biblical profanity, quoting Moses
on the Hill of Vision; sinks to the bottomless of human or ultra-human
depravity, quoting King Nicomedes’s experience on Cæsar, happily known
only to the learned. A most cynical, profane affair; yet we must say,
by way of parenthesis, one which gives no countenance to Voltaire’s
atrocities of rumor about Frederick himself in the matter.”[111]

The routed allies, exasperated and starving, and hating the Protestant
inhabitants of the region through which they retreated, robbed
and maltreated them without mercy. The woes which the defenseless
inhabitants endured from the routed army in its flight no pen can
adequately describe.

An eye-witness writes from near Weissenfels, in a report to the King of
Poland, whose allies the French were, and whose territories they were

“The French army so handled this place as not only to take from its
inhabitants, by open force, all bread and articles of food, but
likewise all clothes, bed-linens, and other portable goods. They
also broke open, split to pieces, and emptied out all chests, boxes,
presses, drawers; shot dead in the back-yards and on the roofs all
manner of feathered stock, as hens, geese, pigeons. They carried off
all swine, cows, sheep, and horses. They laid violent hands on the
inhabitants, clapped swords, guns, and pistols to their breasts,

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 35 of 52)