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

History of Frederick the Second online

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threatening to kill them unless they brought out whatever goods they
had; or hunted them out of their houses, shooting at them, cutting,
sticking, and at last driving them away, thereby to have freer room to
rob and plunder. They flung out hay and other harvest stock into the
mud, and had it trampled to ruin under the horses’ feet.”

“For a hundred miles around,” writes St. Germain, “the country is
plundered and harried as if fire from heaven had fallen on it. Scarcely
have our plunderers and marauders left the houses standing.”

This signal achievement raised the military fame of Frederick higher
than ever before. Still it did not perceptibly diminish the enormous
difficulties with which he was environed. Army after army was marching
upon him. Even by a series of successful battles his forces might be
annihilated. But the renown of the great victory of Rossbach will ever
reverberate through the halls of history.



Results of the Battle of Rossbach. - The Attack upon Breslau. -
Extraordinary Address of the King to his Troops. - Confidence of the
Prussians in their Commander. - Magnificent Array of the Austrians
at Leuthen. - Tactics of Frederick. - The Battle Hymn. - The Battle
and the Victory. - Scenes after the Battle. - Recapture of Breslau by

The battle of Rossbach was fought on the 5th of November, 1757.
Frederick had but little time to rejoice over his victory. The
Austrians were overrunning Silesia. On the 14th of the month, the
important fortress of Schweidnitz, with all its magazines, fell into
their hands. Then Prince Charles, with sixty thousand Austrian troops,
marched upon Breslau, the principal city of Silesia, situated on the
Oder. The Prince of Bevern held the place with a little over twenty
thousand Prussian troops. His army was strongly intrenched outside of
the walls, under the guns of the city.

On the 22d of November the Austrians commenced their attack from five
different points. It was a terrific conflict. Sixty thousand men
stormed ramparts defended by twenty thousand as highly disciplined
troops, and as desperate in valor, as ever stood upon a battle-field.
The struggle commenced at three o’clock in the morning, and raged, over
eight miles of country, until nine o’clock at night. Darkness and utter
exhaustion terminated the conflict. The Austrians had lost, in killed
and wounded, six thousand men, the Prussians eight thousand.

Prince Bevern, aware that the battle would be renewed upon the morrow,
and conscious that he could not sustain another such struggle,
withdrew with his Prussian troops in the night, through the silent
streets of Breslau, to the other side of the Oder, leaving eighty
cannon behind him. The next morning, in visiting one of the outposts,
he was surprised by a party of the Austrians and taken prisoner. It
was reported that, fearing the wrath of the king, he had voluntarily
allowed himself to be captured. General Kyau, the next in rank, took
the command. He rapidly retreated. Breslau, thus left to its fate,
surrendered, with its garrison of four thousand men, ninety-eight
pieces of cannon, and vast magazines filled with stores of war. The
next day was Sunday. Te Deums were chanted by the triumphant Austrians
in the Catholic churches in Breslau, and thanks were offered to God
that Maria Theresa had reconquered Silesia, and that “our ancient
sovereigns are restored to us.”

These were terrible tidings for Frederick. The news reached him at
Gorlitz when on the rapid march toward Silesia. Prince Charles had
between eighty and ninety thousand Austrian troops in the reconquered
province. Frederick seemed to be marching to certain and utter
destruction, as, with a feeble band of but about twenty thousand men,
he pressed forward, declaring, “I will attack them if they stand on the
steeples of Breslau.”

On the evening of the 3d of December, 1757, the king arrived at
Parchwitz, in the heart of Silesia, about thirty miles from Breslau.
Here the wreck of Prince Bevern’s army joined him. Thus re-enforced,
he could bring about thirty thousand men into the field. He
immediately, in the night, assembled his principal officers, and thus
addressed them; the words were taken down at the time. We give this
characteristic address slightly abbreviated:

“My friends, the disasters which have befallen us here are not unknown
to you. Schweidnitz is lost. The Prince of Bevern is beaten. Breslau is
gone, and all our war-stores there. A large part of Silesia is lost.
Indeed, my embarrassments would be insuperable were it not that I have
boundless trust in you. There is hardly one among you who has not
distinguished himself by some memorable action. All these services I
well know, and shall never forget.

“I flatter myself that now nothing will be wanting of that valor which
the state has a right to expect of you. The hour is at hand. I should
feel that I had accomplished nothing were I to leave Silesia in the
hands of Austria. Let me then apprise you that I intend to attack
Prince Charles’s army, which is nearly thrice the strength of our own,
wherever I can find it. It matters not what are his numbers, or what
the strength of his position. All this by courage and by skill we will
try to overcome. This step I must risk, or all is lost. We must beat
the enemy, or perish before his batteries. If there be any one who
shrinks from sharing these dangers with me, he can have his discharge
this evening.”

The king paused. A general murmur of applause indicated the united
resolve to conquer or to die. Frederick immediately added:

“Yes, I knew it. Not one of you will forsake me. I rely upon your
help and upon victory as sure. The cavalry regiment that does not, on
the instant, on order given, dash full plunge into the enemy, I will
directly after the battle unhorse, and make it a garrison regiment. The
infantry battalion which, meet with what it may, shows the least sign
of hesitating, loses its colors and its sabres, and I cut the trimmings
from its uniform.

“I shall be in the front and in the rear of the army. I shall fly
from one wing to the other. No squadron and no company will escape my
observation. Those who act well I will reward, and will never forget
them. We shall soon either have beaten the enemy or we shall see each
other no more.”

After this address to the assembled generals Frederick rode out to the
camp, and addressed each regiment in the most familiar and fatherly,
yet by no means exultant terms. It was night. The glare of torches shed
a lurid light upon the scene. The first regiment the king approached
was composed of the cuirassiers of the Life Guard.

“Well, my children,” said Frederick, “how do you think that it will be
with us now? The Austrians are twice as strong as we.”

“Never you mind that,” they replied. “The Austrians are not Prussians.
You know what we can do.”

“Indeed I do,” the king responded. “Otherwise I durst not risk a
battle. And now, my children, a good night’s sleep to you. We shall
soon attack the enemy; and we shall beat him, or we shall all die.”

“Yes, death or victory,” they shouted. Then from loving lips the cheer
ran along the line, “Good-night, Fritz.”

And thus the king passed from regiment to regiment. Perhaps no
commander, excepting Napoleon, has ever secured to an equal degree the
love of his soldiers. It is said that a deserter was brought before him.

“What induced you to desert me?” inquired the king.

“Alas! your majesty,” the man replied, “we are so few, and the
Austrians are so many, that defeat is certain.”

“Well,” the king replied, kindly, “try it one day more. If we do not
mend matters, you and I will both desert together.”

The Austrian army, which outnumbered the Prussian over three to one,
was in a camp, very strongly fortified, near Breslau. A council of war
was held. Some of the Austrian officers, dreading the prowess of their
redoubtable opponent, advised that they should remain behind their
intrenchments, and await an attack. It would, of course, be impossible
for less than thirty thousand men to storm ramparts bristling with
artillery, and defended by nearly ninety thousand highly disciplined
and veteran troops.

Others, however, urged that this was ignoble and cowardly; that it
would expose them to the derision of the world if they, with their
overwhelming numbers, were to take shelter behind their ramparts,
fearing to attack so feeble a band. Prince Charles, anxious to regain
lost reputation, and elated by the reconquest of Silesia, adopted the
more heroic resolve, and marched out to meet the foe.

With great joy Frederick learned that the Austrians had left their
camp, and were on the advance to attack him. He immediately put his
little army in motion for the perilous and decisive conflict. It was
four o’clock Sunday morning, December 4, 1757, when Frederick left
Parchwitz on his march toward Breslau. He was familiar with every
square mile of the region. The Austrians were so vastly superior in
numbers that many of them quite despised the weakness of the Prussian
army. Many jokes were tossed about in the Austrian camp respecting the
feeble band of Frederick, which they contemptuously called the “Potsdam

The Austrians, on the careless and self-confident march toward
Parchwitz, had crossed the Schweidnitz River, or Water, as it was
called, when they learned that Frederick, with a tiger-like spring,
had leaped upon Neumarkt, an important town fourteen miles from
Parchwitz. Here the Austrians had a bakery, protected by a guard of a
thousand men. Seven hundred of the guard were instantly sabred or taken
prisoners. The rest fled wildly. Frederick gathered up eighty thousand
hot bread rations, with which he feasted his hungry troops.


Early on Monday morning the Prussians advanced from Neumarkt, eight
miles, to Borne. Here they met the advance-guard of the Austrian
cavalry. It was a dark, foggy morning. Frederick, as usual, was with
his vanguard. Almost before the Austrians were conscious of the
presence of the foe, they were assailed, with the utmost impetuosity,
in front and on both their flanks. Instantly they were thrown into
utter confusion. The ground was covered with their dead. Their general,
Nostitz, was fatally wounded, and died the next day. Five hundred and
forty were taken prisoners. The bleeding, breathless remnant fled
pell-mell back to the main body, a few miles in the rear.

Frederick, pressing forward directly east, toward Leuthen, ascended an
eminence, the height of Scheuberg, whence he beheld, directly before
him, the whole majestic Austrian army. It extended for a distance of
about five miles, drawn up in battle-array across his path, from the
village of Nypern on the north, through Leuthen, to the village of
Sagschütz on the south. So distinctly were their military lines spread
out before the eye that Frederick, with his glass, could count them,
man by man. Carefully the king studied the position of the enemy, and
formed his plan of attack. He designed, while bewildering the Austrians
by his manœuvres, to direct the whole concentrated strength of his
army upon their extreme left wing. He hoped thus, by the desperate
impetuosity of his attack, to roll that whole left wing together in
utter ruin before the centre or the right could come to its aid. He
would then press on, with numbers ever overpowering the Austrians at
the point of attack, until the whole line, five miles in length, was

An eye-witness thus describes the tactics by which Frederick executed
his design: “It is a particular manœuvre which, up to the present time,
none but Prussian troops can execute with the precision and velocity
indispensable to it. You divide your line into many pieces. You can
push these forward stair-wise, so that they shall halt close to one
another. Forming itself in this way, a mass of troops takes up in
proportion very little ground. And it shows in the distance, by reason
of the mixed uniforms and standards, a totally chaotic mass of men,
heaped one on another. But it needs only that the commander lift his
finger, and instantly this living coil of knotted intricacies develops
itself in perfect order, and with a speed like that of mountain

“It was a beautiful sight,” writes Tempelhof. “The heads of the columns
were constantly on the same level, and at the distance necessary for
forming. All flowed on exact as if in a review. And you could read in
the eyes of our brave troops the temper they were in.”

As they marched their voices burst forth simultaneously in a German
hymn. The gush of their rude and many-voiced melody was borne
distinctly on the wind to the eminence where Frederick stood, anxiously
watching those movements which were to decide his own fate, that of his
family, and of his kingdom. The following is a translation of one of
the verses of this hymn:

“Grant that with zeal and skill, this day, I do
What me to do behooves, what Thou command’st me to;
Grant that I do it sharp, at point of moment fit,
And when I do it, grant me good success in it.”[113]

These solemn tones of sacred psalmody fell impressively upon the
ear of the king when his earthly all was trembling in the balance.
Religionless and atheistic as he was, he could not repress some visible
emotion. One of his officers, aware of the king’s avowed contempt for
every thing of a religious nature, inquired,

“Shall we order that to cease, your majesty?”

“By no means,” the king replied. “With men like these I shall be sure
of victory to-day!”[114]

[Illustration: BATTLE OF LEUTHEN, DECEMBER 5, 1757.

_a a. Austrian Army. b b. Position of Saxon Forepost, under
Nostitz. c c. Advance of Prussian Army. d. Lucchesi’s Cavalry,
re-enforced by Daun. e. Left Wing, under Nadasti. f. Frederick’s
Hill of Observation. g g. Prussian Army about to attack.
h. Ziethen’s Cavalry. i i i. Retreat of Austrians._]

The field of Leuthen - for so this battle-field was called - was a
vast undulating plain or rolling prairie, extending for miles in all
directions. One or two brooks flowed sluggishly through it. Here
and there were expanses of marsh which neither horse nor foot could
traverse. A few scraggy firs dotted the dreary landscape, and there
were also a few hamlets of peasants’ huts scattered around. Frederick
concealed his movements as much as possible behind the undulations,
and succeeded in deceiving the Austrians into the belief that he was
to make an attack upon their _right_ wing. The Austrian officers,
on windmills and in church belfries, were eagerly scrutinizing his
manœuvres. Deceived into the conviction that their right wing was
menaced, they impetuously pushed forward large re-enforcements of horse
to the support of the presumed point of attack. Thus the left wing was

Frederick, who had taken his position upon a windmill, saw, with much
satisfaction, the successful operation of his plan. Suddenly, with
almost miraculous swiftness of movement, his perfectly drilled troops,
horse, foot, and artillery, every man reckless of life, poured forth
with a rush and a roar as of a lava-flood upon the extreme left of the
Austrians. It was one o’clock of the day. There was neither brook,
bush, fence, nor marsh to impede the headlong impetuosity of the
assault. At the point of attack the Prussians were, of course, most
numerous. There were a few moments of terrible slaughter, and the left
wing of the Austrian army was annihilated. The ground was covered with
the wounded and the dead, and the fugitives, in dismay, were fleeing
across the fields.

The Austrian centre was pushed rapidly forward to the aid of the
discomfited left. It was too late. The soldiers arrived upon the ground
breathless and in disorder. Before they had time to form, Frederick
plowed their ranks with balls, swept them with bullets, and fell
upon them mercilessly with sabre and bayonet. The carnage was awful.
Division after division melted away in the fire deluge which consumed
them. Prince Charles made the most desperate efforts to rally his
dismayed troops in and around the church-yard at Leuthen. Here for an
hour they fought desperately. But it was all in vain. The left wing was
destroyed. The centre was destroyed. The right wing was pushed forward
only to be cut to pieces by the sabres, and to be mown down by the
terrific fire of the triumphant Prussians.

Scarcely had the conflict upon the extreme left commenced ere it was
evident that by the military sagacity of Frederick the doom of the
Austrian army was sealed. With thirty thousand men he had attacked
ninety thousand on the open field, and was utterly overwhelming them.
An Austrian officer, Prince De Ligne, describing the battle, writes:

“Cry had risen for the reserve, and that it must come on as fast as
possible. We ran at our utmost speed. Our lieutenant colonel fell,
killed, at the first. Then we lost our major, and, indeed, all the
officers but three. We had crossed two successive ditches which lay
in an orchard to the left of the first houses in Leuthen, and were
beginning to form in front of the village. But there was no standing
it. Besides a general cannonade, such as can scarcely be imagined,
there was a rain of case-shot upon this battalion, of which I had to
take command. A Prussian battalion at the distance of eighty paces
gave the liveliest fire upon us. It stood as if on the parade-ground,
and waited for us without stirring. My soldiers, who were tired with
running, and had no cannon, soon became scattered. At last, when I had
but two hundred left, I drew back to the height where the windmill is.”

Before the sun went down the Austrian army was every where flying from
the field in hopeless confusion. Their rush was in four torrents toward
the east, to reach the bridges which crossed the Schweidnitz Water.
There were four of them. One was on the main road at Lissa; one a mile
north at Stabelwitz; and two on the south, one at Goldschmieden, and
the other at Hermannsdorf. The victory of Frederick was one of the
most memorable in the annals of war. The Austrians lost in killed and
wounded ten thousand men. Twenty-one thousand were taken prisoners.
This was a heavier loss in numbers than the whole army of Frederick.
The victors also took fifty-one flags, and a hundred and sixteen cannon.

As the king cast his eye over the blood-stained field, covered with the
wounded and the dead, for a moment he seemed overcome with the aspect
of misery, and exclaimed, “When, oh when will my woes cease?”

“My children,” said Frederick that night at parole, “after such a day’s
work you deserve rest. This day will send the renown of your name and
that of the nation down to the latest posterity.”

He did not order the exhausted troops to pursue the foe. Still, as he
rode along the line after dark, he inquired,

“Is there any battalion which has a mind to follow me to Lissa?”

Three volunteered. It was so dark that the landlord of a little country
inn walked with a lantern by the side of Frederick’s horse. Lissa was
on the main road to Breslau. The landlord supposed that he was guiding
one of Frederick’s generals, and was very communicative.

“Yesterday noon,” said he, “I had Prince Charles in my parlor. His
adjutants and people were all crowding about. Such a questioning and
bothering. Hundreds came dashing in, and other hundreds were sent out.
In and out they went all night. No sooner was one gone than ten came. I
had to keep a roaring fire in the kitchen all night, so many officers
were crowding to it to warm themselves. They talked and babbled. One
would say that our king was marching upon them with his Potsdam parade
guard. Another would say, ‘No, he dare not come. He will turn and run.’
But my delight is that our king has paid them for their fooleries so
prettily this afternoon.”

“When did you get rid of your guests?” inquired the king.

“About nine this morning,” was the reply, “the prince got to horse. Not
long after three he came back again with a swarm of officers, all going
full speed for Lissa. They were full of bragging when they came; now
they were off wrong side foremost! I saw how it was. Close following
after him the flood of them ran. The high road was not broad enough. It
was an hour and more before it ended. Such a pell-mell, such a welter!
cavalry and infantry all jumbled together. Our king must have given
them a terrible flogging.”

When the king reached Lissa he found the village full of Austrian
officers and soldiers in a state of utter disorganization and
confusion. Had the Austrians known their strength or the weakness of
the king, they might easily have taken him captive. Frederick was
somewhat alarmed. He, however, assumed a bold front, and rode to the
principal house in the town, which was a little one side of the main
street. The house was crowded with Austrian officers, bustling about,
seeking lodgings for the night. The king stepped in with a slight
escort, and said gayly,

“Good evening, gentlemen, good evening. Can you make room for me here,
do you think?”


The astounded Austrians bowed to the dust before him, escorted him
to the best room, and, stealing out into the darkness, made their
way as rapidly as possible to the bridge, which at the east end of
the street crossed the Schweidnitz Water. At the farther end of the
bridge Austrian cannon were planted to arrest the pursuit. The officers
hurried across, and vanished in the gloom of night, followed by the
river-guard. The Prussian cannoneers steadily pursued, and kept up
through the night an incessant fire upon the rear of the foe.

The night was very dark and cold. A wintry wind swept the bleak, frozen
fields. Still the routed Austrians pressed on. Still the tireless
Prussians pursued. The Prussian soldiers were Protestants. Many of
them were well instructed in religion. As they pressed on through the
gloom, sweeping the road before them with artillery discharges, their
voices simultaneously burst forth into a well-known Church hymn, a sort
of Protestant _Te Deum_ -

“Now thank God, one and all,
With heart, with voice, with hands,
Who wonders great hath done
To us and to all lands.”[115]

Early in the morning Frederick’s whole army was on the rapid march for
Breslau, which was scarcely twenty miles distant from the battle-field.
The Austrians had collected immense military stores in the city.
Prince Charles, as he fled through the place with the wreck of his
army, left a garrison of seventeen thousand men for its defense. In a
siege of twelve days, during which there was an incessant bombardment
and continual assaults, the city was carried. A few days after this,
Liegnitz, which the Austrians had strongly fortified, was also
surrendered to the victor. Frederick had thus reconquered the whole of
Silesia excepting the single fortress of Schweidnitz.



Destruction of the Army of Prince Charles. - Dismay in Vienna. -
Testimony of Napoleon I. - Of Voltaire. - Wretchedness of the King. -
Compromise rejected. - New Preparations for War. - Treaty between
England and Prussia. - Plan of the Campaign. - Siege of Olmütz. -
Death of Prince Augustus William. - The Baggage Train. - The
irreparable Disaster. - Anxiety of Frederick for Wilhelmina. - The
March against the Russians. - The Battle of Zorndorf. - Anecdotes of

The army of Prince Charles was so utterly destroyed or dispersed by the
battle of Leuthen that the morning after his terrible defeat he could
rally around his banners, by count, but fifty thousand men. These were
utterly disheartened. Stragglers were wandering all over the country.
A few thousand of these again joined the ranks. Seventeen thousand
men left in Breslau were soon captured. Prince Charles, abandoning
guns and wagons, fled through rain, and mud, and sleet directly south
toward Königgrätz, in Bohemia. The sufferings of the troops were awful.
Several hundred sentinels, in one night, were frozen stiff at their
posts. The dreadful retreat continued for ten days.

“The army,” writes Prince Charles, mournfully, “was greatly
dilapidated. The soldiers were without clothes, and in a condition

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 36 of 52)