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

History of Frederick the Second online

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truly pitiable. So closely were we pursued by the enemy that at night
we were compelled to encamp without tents.”

Having reached the shelter of Königgrätz, he counted his troops, and
found that he had in rank and file but thirty-seven thousand men. Of
these, twenty-two thousand, from sickness, exhaustion, and wounds, were
in hospital. Thus, out of the army of ninety thousand men with which he
had commenced the campaign early in December, at the close of the month
he could array but fifteen thousand on any field of battle.

The astonishment and indignation in Vienna, in view of this terrible
defeat, were intense. Prince Charles was immediately relieved of his
command, and General Daun appointed in his stead. It is the testimony
of all military men that the battle of Leuthen was one of the most
extraordinary feats of war. Napoleon, speaking of it at St. Helena,

“This battle is a masterpiece of movements, of manœuvres, and of
resolution. It is enough to immortalize Frederick, and to rank him
among the greatest generals. It develops, in the highest degree, both
his moral and his military qualities.”

Voltaire, in summing up a sketch of this campaign of 1757, writes in
characteristic phrase:

“Even Gustavus Adolphus never did such great things. One must, indeed,
pardon Frederick his verses, his sarcasms, and his little malices. All
the faults of the man disappear before the glory of the hero.”

On the 19th of December, the day of the capitulation of Breslau,
Frederick wrote from that place to his friend D’Argens as follows:

“Your friendship seduces you, _mon cher_. I am but a paltry knave in
comparison with Alexander, and not worthy to tie the shoe-latchets of
Cæsar. Necessity, who is the mother of industry, has made me act, and
have recourse to desperate remedies in evils of a like nature.

“We have taken here from fourteen to fifteen thousand prisoners. In
all, I have above twenty-three thousand of the queen’s troops in my
hands, fifteen generals, and above seven hundred officers. It is a
plaster on my wounds, but it is far enough from healing them.”

It was now midwinter. Frederick, having established his troops in
winter quarters, took up his residence in Breslau. His troubles were
by no means ended. Vastly outnumbering foes still surrounded him. Very
vigorous preparations were to be made for the sanguinary conflicts
which the spring would surely introduce. Frederick did what he could
to infuse gayety into the society at Breslau, though he had but little
heart to enter into those gayeties himself. For a week he suffered
severely from colic pains, and could neither eat nor sleep. “Eight
months,” he writes, “of anguish and agitation do wear one down.”

His sister Amelia and several other friends visited him at Breslau.
Among others was his reader, Henry de Catt.

“Should you have known me?” the king inquired of De Catt.

“Hardly,” he replied, “in that dress. Besides, your majesty has grown

“That may well be,” rejoined the king, “with the cursed life I have
been leading.”

Frederick still sought recreation in writing verses which he called
poetry. To D’Argens he wrote, “I have made a prodigious quantity
of verses. If I live I will show them to you. If I perish they are
bequeathed to you, and I have ordered that they be put into your hand.”

Again he wrote D’Argens on the 26th of December, “What a pleasure
to hear that you are coming. I have sent a party of light horse to
conduct you. You can make short journeys. I have directed that horses
be ordered for you, that your rooms be warmed every where, and good
fowls ready on all roads. Your apartment in this house is carpeted,
hermetically shut. You shall suffer nothing from draughts or from

Frederick, having regained Silesia, was anxious for peace. He wrote a
polite letter to Maria Theresa, adroitly worded, so as to signify that
desire without directly expressing it. The empress queen, disheartened
by the disasters of Rossbach and Leuthen, was rather inclined to listen
to such suggestions; but the Duchess of Pompadour verified the adage
that “hell has no fury like a woman scorned.” She governed the wretched
Louis XV., and through him governed France. In her intense personal
exasperation against Frederick she would heed no terms of compromise,
and infused new energy into all warlike operations. Large subsidies
were paid by France to Austria, Sweden, and Russia, to prepare for the
campaign of 1758.

Frederick was soon aware that peace was out of the question without
farther fighting. Before the 1st of April he had one hundred and
forty-five thousand men ready for the field. Of these, fifty-three
thousand were in Silesia. Many of the Austrian deserters were induced
to join his standards. But the most important event secured was forming
a subsidy treaty with England. The British cabinet, alarmed in view of
the power which the successful prosecution of the war on the part of
the allies would give to France, after much hesitation, came to the aid
of Frederick, whom they hated as much as they feared France. On the
11th of April, 1758, a treaty was signed between the English court and
Frederick, containing the following important item:

“That Frederick shall have six hundred and seventy thousand pounds
($3,350,000), payable in London to his order, in October, this year,
which sum Frederick engages to spend wholly in the maintenance and
increase of his army for behoof of the common object; neither party to
dream of making the least shadow of peace or truce without the other.”

Schweidnitz was strictly blockaded during the winter. On the 15th of
March, the weather being still cold, wet, and stormy, Frederick marched
from Breslau to attack the place. His siege artillery was soon in
position. With his accustomed impetuosity he commenced the assault,
and, after a terrific bombardment of many days, on the night of the
15th of April took the works by storm. The garrison, which had dwindled
from eight thousand to four thousand five hundred, was all captured,
with fifty-one guns, thirty-five thousand dollars of money, and a large
quantity of stores. Thus the whole of Silesia was again in the hands of

It was supposed that his Prussian majesty would now march southwest for
the invasion of Bohemia. Austria made vigorous preparations to meet
him there. Much to the surprise and bewilderment of the Austrians,
the latter part of April Frederick directed his columns toward the
southeast. His army, about forty thousand strong, was in two divisions.
By a rapid march through Neisse and Jagerndorf he reached Troppau,
on the extreme southern frontier of Silesia. He then turned to the
southwest. It was again supposed that he intended to invade Bohemia,
but from the east instead of from the north.

General Daun, in command of the Austrian forces, rapidly concentrated
his troops around Leutomischel, where he had extensive magazines. But
Frederick, leaving Leutomischel far away on his right, pressed forward
in a southerly direction, and on the 12th of May appeared before
Olmütz. His march had been rapidly and admirably conducted, dividing
his troops into columns for the convenience of road and subsistence.

Olmütz was an ancient, strongly fortified city of Moravia, pleasantly
situated on the western banks of the Morawa River. It had been the
capital of Moravia, and contained about ten thousand inhabitants. The
place subsequently became renowned from the imprisonment of Lafayette
in its citadel for many years. The city had become an arsenal, and one
of the most important military store-houses of Austria.

Olmütz was ninety miles from Troppau, in Silesia, where Frederick had
established his base of supplies. This was a long line of communication
to protect. General Daun, with a numerous Austrian army, all whose
movements were veiled by clouds of those fleet and shaggy horsemen
called Pandours, was forty miles to the west, at Leutomischel. Cautious
in the extreme, nothing could draw him into a general battle. But he
watched his foe with an eagle eye, continually assailing his line of
communication, and ever ready to strike his heaviest blows upon any
exposed point.

The king’s brother Henry was in command in Saxony, at the head of
thirty thousand troops. Frederick wrote to him the characteristic and
very judicious advice, “Do as energetically as possible whatever seems
wisest to _you_. But hold no councils of war.”

The plan of his Prussian majesty was bold and sagacious. He supposed
that he could easily take Olmütz. Availing himself of the vast
magazines to be found there, he would summon his brother Henry to join
him by a rapid march through Bohemia, and with their combined force of
sixty thousand troops they would make a rush upon Vienna. The Austrian
capital was distant but about one hundred miles, directly south. As
the Austrian army was widely dispersed, there were but few impediments
to be encountered. The success of this plan would compel the allies to
withdraw their forces from the territories of the King of Prussia, if
it did not enable Frederick to dictate peace in the palaces of Maria

Olmütz was found very strongly fortified. It was so situated that,
with the force Frederick had, it could not be entirely invested. Baron
Marshal, a very brave and energetic old man, sixty-seven years of age,
conducted the defense.

[Illustration: SIEGE OF OLMÜTZ, MAY 12 - JULY 2, 1758.

_a a. Stages of the Prussian March. b. Daun’s Encampment.
c. Prussian Batteries and Intrenchments. d d d. Prussian Camps.
e e. Loudon’s March against Mosel’s Convoy. f f. Mosel’s resting
Quarters. g. Convoy attacked and ruined._]

His garrison consisted of about fourteen thousand infantry and six
hundred dragoons. General Daun was at the distance of but two marches,
with a larger Austrian force than Frederick commanded. Nothing can
more clearly show the dread with which the Austrians regarded their
antagonist than the fact that General Daun did not march immediately
upon Olmütz, and, with the aid of a sally from the garrison, overwhelm
and crush Frederick beneath their united assaults.

For seven weeks the siege of Olmütz was prosecuted with great vigor.
With much skill Frederick protected his baggage trains in their long
and exposed route of ninety miles through forests and mountain defiles.
General Keith was intrusted with the details of the siege facing the
town toward the east; Frederick, with a vigilant corps of horse and
foot, was about twenty miles to the west, watching every movement
of General Daun, so far as he was able through the thick cloud of
Pandours, behind which the Austrian commander endeavored to conceal all
his manœuvres.

While engaged in these labors the tidings reached him of the death of
his brother Augustus William. He was Prince of Prussia, being, next to
the childless Frederick, heir to the crown. Frederick seems to have
received the news very heartlessly.

“Of what did he die?” he coldly inquired of the messenger.

“Of chagrin, your majesty,” was the reply.

Frederick turned upon his heel, and made no answer.

The unhappy Prince of Prussia, on his dying bed, wrote a very touching
letter to his brother Frederick, remonstrating against his conduct,
which was not only filling Europe with blood and misery, but which was
also imperiling the existence of the Prussian kingdom.

“The slow fever,” he wrote, “which consumes me, has not thrown any
disorder into my understanding. Condescend to listen to me, sire,
now that I can not be suspected of any illusion or deceit. There is
an end to the house of Prussia if you continue to brave all Europe
confederated against you. You force all Europe to arm to repel
your encroachments. The princes of Europe are leagued against your
majesty by justice and by interest. Their subjects regard your ruin
as essential to the re-establishment of peace and the safety of
monarchical government. They read in your success the slavery of the
human race, the annihilation of laws, the degradation of society.”

In reference to the course which the king had allowed himself to pursue
in obtaining access to the archives of Saxony by bribing an officer to
betray his trust, Augustus William wrote:

“The more you have proved that you were acquainted with the intentions
of Saxony, the more odious have you rendered its invasion. In order to
procure this knowledge, your minister has degraded his character. By
means proscribed in society, you have discovered only that the King
Elector of Saxony did not love the power of Prussia, that he feared it,
and that he even dared to form projects to defend himself against it.
Documents which are stolen make against the accuser who produces them,
if they do not prove the crime which they impute.”[116]

In conclusion, in most pathetic terms he entreated the king to listen
to terms of peace, and thus to prevent the ruin of himself, of his
people, and of his royal house.

At the same time that the tidings of the death of Augustus William
were communicated to the king, he received also the tidings, which to
him were truly heart-rending, that Wilhelmina, worn down with care and
sorrow, was fast sinking into the grave.

Early in June, the cautious but ever-vigilant General Daun succeeded
in throwing into Olmütz a re-enforcement of eleven hundred Austrian
troops. They were guided by peasants through by-paths in the forests.
Crossing the river some miles below Olmütz, they entered the city from
the east.

Still, on the whole, the siege progressed favorably. Large supplies of
food and ammunition were indispensable to Frederick. Thirty thousand
hungry men were to be fed. A constant bombardment rapidly exhausts even
abundant stores of powder, shot, and shell.

In the latter part of June a large train of over three thousand
four-horse wagons, laden with all necessary supplies, left Troppau
for Olmütz. It is difficult for a reader unfamiliar with such scenes
to form any conception of the magnitude of such an enterprise. There
are twelve thousand horses to be shod, harnessed, and fed, and watered
three or four times a day. There are three thousand wagons to be kept
in repair, rattling over the stones and plowing through the mire. Six
thousand teamsters are required. There is invariably connected with
such a movement one or two thousand camp-followers, sutlers, women,
vagabonds. A large armed force is also needed to act as convoy.

This train filled the road for a distance of twenty miles. To traverse
the route of ninety miles required six days. The road led through
forests and mountain defiles. A bold and vigorous foe, well equipped
and well mounted, watched the movement. To protect such a train from
assault is one of the most difficult achievements of war. The enemy,
suddenly emerging from mountain fastnesses or gloomy forests, can
select his point of attack, and then sweep in either direction along
the line, burning and destroying.

On the 26th of June this vast train commenced its movement from
Troppau. A convoy of about seven thousand infantry and eleven hundred
cavalry guarded the wagons. They were in three bodies, on the front,
in the centre, and on the rear. The king also sent forward about six
thousand horse and foot from Olmütz to meet the train.

The wagons had accomplished about half the distance, when, on Friday,
the 30th of June, as they were emerging from wild ravines among the
mountains, they were simultaneously attacked in front, centre, and rear
by three divisions of the Austrians, each about five thousand strong.
Then ensued as terrible a scene of panic and confusion as war has ever
witnessed. The attack of horsemen with their gleaming sabres, the storm
of bullets, thick as hailstones, the thunders of the cannon, as the
ponderous balls tore their way through wagons, and horses, and men,
soon presented such a spectacle of devastation, ruin, and woe as mortal
eyes have seldom gazed upon.

“Among the tragic wrecks of this convoy there is one that still goes
to our heart. A longish, almost straight row of Prussian recruits
stretched among the slain, what are these? These were seven hundred
recruits coming up from their cantons to the wars. See how they have
fought to the death, poor lads! and have honorably, on the sudden,
got manumitted from the toils of life. Seven hundred of them stood to
arms this morning; some sixty-five will get back to Troppau; that is
the invoice account. There they lie with their blonde young cheeks,
beautiful in death.”[117]

A large portion of the train was utterly destroyed. The remainder was
driven back to Troppau. The disaster was irreparable. The tidings were
conveyed to Frederick the next day, July 1. They must have fallen upon
him with crushing weight. It was the annihilation of all his hopes for
the campaign, and rendered it necessary immediately to raise the siege
and retreat. This extraordinary man did not allow himself to manifest
the slightest despondency. He assembled his officers, and, with a
smiling face, and hopeful, cheering words, announced his decision.

All Saturday night the bombardment was continued with increasing fury.
In the mean time four thousand wagons were packed, and, long before the
dawn of Sunday morning, were on the road. The retreat was so admirably
conducted that General Daun did not venture even to attempt to harass
the retiring columns. Instead of moving in a northerly direction to
Silesia, Frederick directed his march to the northwest, into Bohemia.
On the 8th of July his long column safely reached Leutomischel. He
there seized quite an amount of military stores, which General Daun, in
his haste and bewilderment, had not been able to remove or to destroy.
Five more marches conducted him to Königgrätz.

General Daun, with the utmost caution, followed the retreating army.
Though his numbers were estimated at seventy-five thousand, he did not
dare to encounter Frederick with his thirty thousand Prussians on the
field of battle. With skill which has elicited the applause of all
military critics, Frederick, early in August, continued his retreat
till he reached, on the 8th of the month, Grüssau, on his own side of
the mountains in Silesia. On this march he wrote to his brother Henry
from Skalitz:

“What you write to me of my sister of Baireuth makes me tremble. Next
to my mother, she is the one I have most tenderly loved in this world.
She is a sister who has my heart and all my confidence, and whose
character is of a price beyond all the crowns in the universe. From
my tenderest years I was brought up with her. You can conceive how
there reigns between us that indissoluble bond of mutual affection
and attachment for life which in many cases were impossible. Would to
Heaven that I might die before her!”

On the 9th of August he wrote from Grüssau to Wilhelmina herself: “Oh,
you, the dearest of my family, you whom I have most at heart of all in
this world, for the sake of whatever is most precious to you, preserve
yourself, and let me have at least the consolation of shedding my tears
in your bosom!”

Frederick had left Grüssau on the 18th of April for his Moravian
campaign. He returned on the 8th of August, after an absence of sixteen
weeks. The campaign had proved an entire failure. A Russian army, fifty
thousand strong, under General Fermor, had invaded Brandenburg, just
beyond the extreme northern frontier of Silesia. These semi-barbarian
soldiers had burned the town of Cüstrin, on the Oder, were besieging
the small garrison in its citadel, and were committing the most horrid
outrages upon the community around, not only plundering and burning,
but even consigning captives to the flames.

On Friday, the 11th of August, Frederick, leaving forty thousand men
to guard Silesia, took fifteen thousand troops, and commenced a very
rapid march to attack the fifty thousand Russians. Upon the eve of his
departure he wrote to his brother Henry:

“I march to-morrow against the Russians. As the events of war may
lead to all sorts of accidents, and it may easily happen to me to be
killed, I have thought it my duty to let you know what my plans were;
the rather, as you are the guardian of my nephew,[118] with unlimited

He then gave minute directions as to what he wished to have done
in case of his death. Marching rapidly through Liegnitz and
Hohenfriedberg, he reached Frankfort-on-the-Oder on Sunday, the 20th of
August. He was now within twenty miles of Cüstrin, and the bombardment
by the heavy siege guns of the Russians could be distinctly heard.
Frederick took lodgings at the house of a clergyman’s widow. Frequently
he arose and went out of doors, listening impatiently to the cannonade.
An eye-witness writes:

“I observed that the king took a pinch of snuff as the sound of each
discharge reached him. And even through that air of intrepidity, which
never abandoned this prince, I could perceive the sensations of pity
toward that unfortunate town, and an eager impatience to fly to its

The next morning, taking with him a small escort, and leaving his army
to follow with as much speed as possible, he rode rapidly down the
western bank of the Oder to Görgast, where he had an encampment of
about fifteen thousand Prussian troops. At five o’clock in the morning
of Tuesday the two bands were united. He now had at his command thirty
thousand men. Cüstrin was on the eastern bank of the Oder, near the
confluence of the Warta. A few miles below Cüstrin, at Schaumburg,
there were portions of a bridge across the Oder. Here the Russians
had erected a redoubt. Frederick ordered a violent attack upon that
redoubt. During the night, while the attention of the Russians was
occupied by the assault, Frederick marched his army twelve miles
farther down the river, and crossed, without any loss, at Güstebiese.
His baggage train he left, carefully guarded, on the western bank of
the river.

Pressing straight forward, Wednesday morning, to the east, he encamped
that night about ten miles from Güstebiese. He had so successfully
veiled his movements that the Russians knew not where he was. On
Thursday morning, August 24, at an early hour, he resumed his march,
and crossed the Mützel River at various points. His confidence of
victory was so great that he destroyed all the bridges behind him to
prevent the retreat of the Russians.

General Fermor was now informed, through his roving Cossacks, of the
position of Frederick. Immediately he raised the siege of Cüstrin,
hurried off his baggage train to Klein Kamin, on the road to Landsberg,
and retired with his army to a very strong position near the village of
Zorndorf. Here there was a wild, bleak, undulating plain, interspersed
with sluggish streams, and forests, and impassable bogs. General
Fermor massed the Russian troops in a very irregular hollow square,
with his staff baggage in the centre, and awaited an attack. This huge
quadrilateral of living lines, four men deep, with bristling bayonets,
prancing horses, and iron-lipped cannon, was about two miles long by
one mile broad.

At half past three o’clock on Friday morning, Frederick, with his whole
army, was again upon the march. He swept quite around the eastern
end of the Russian square, and approached it from the south. By this
sagacious movement he could, in case of disaster, retreat to Cüstrin.

The morning of a hot August day dawned sultry, the wind breathing
gently from the south. Bands of Cossacks hovered around upon the wings
of the Prussian army, occasionally riding up to the infantry ranks
and discharging their pistols at them. The Prussians were forbidden
to make any reply. “The infantry pours along like a plowman drawing
his furrow, heedless of the circling crows.” The Cossacks set fire to
Zorndorf. In a few hours it was in ashes, while clouds of suffocating
smoke were swept through the Russian lines.

The attack was made about eight o’clock, with the whole concentrated
force of the Prussians, upon the southwest wing of the quadrilateral.
The carnage produced by the Prussian batteries, as their balls swept
crosswise through the massed Russians, was terrible. One cannon-shot
struck down forty-two men. For a moment the Prussians were thrown into
confusion by the destructive fire returned by the foe, and seemed
discomfited. The Russians plunged wildly forward, with loud huzzas. In
the eagerness of their onset their lines were broken.


Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 37 of 52)