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

History of Frederick the Second online

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General Seidlitz, with five thousand horsemen, immediately dashed in
among them. Almost in an instant the shouts of victory sank away in
groans of death. It was an awful scene - a maelstrom of chaotic tumult,
shrieks, blood, and death. The stolid Russians refused to fly. The
Prussians sabred them and trampled them beneath their horses’ feet
until their arms were weary. This terrible massacre lasted until one
o’clock. The whole of the western portion of the quadrilateral was
destroyed. The Russian soldiers at a little distance from the scene of
carnage, reckless and under poor discipline, broke open the sutlers’
brandy-casks, and were soon beastly drunk. The officers, endeavoring
to restrain them, dashed in many of the casks. The soldiers, throwing
themselves upon the ground, lapped the fiery liquid from the puddles.
They killed many of their own officers, and became almost unresisting
victims of the sabres and bayonets of their assailants. The Prussians,
exasperated by the awful acts of cruelty which had been perpetrated by
the Russians, showed no mercy. In the midst of the butchery, the word
ran along their lines, “No quarter.”

The eastern half of the immense quadrangle endeavored to reform itself,
so as to present a new front to the foe. But, before this could be
done, Frederick hurled his right wing, his centre, and all that
remained disposable of his left wing upon it. His cavalry plunged into
the disordered mass. His batteries, with almost unprecedented rapidity
of fire, tore the tumultuous and panic-stricken ranks to shreds; and
his line of infantry, like a supernatural wall of bristling steel,
unwaveringly advanced, pouring in upon the foe the most deadly volleys.

At one moment the Russian horse dashed against this line and staggered
it. Frederick immediately rushed into the vortex to rally the broken
battalions. At the same instant the magnificent squadrons of Seidlitz,
five thousand strong, flushed with victory, swept like the storm-wind
upon the Russian dragoons. They were whirled back like autumn leaves
before the gale. About four o’clock the firing ceased. The ammunition
on both sides was nearly expended. For some time the Prussians had been
using the cartridge-boxes of the dead Russians.

And now ensued a conflict such as has seldom been witnessed in modern
times. The Russian soldiers would not run. Indeed, the bridges over the
Mützel being broken down, they could only plunge into the river and be
drowned. Frenzied with brandy, they fought like tigers. “Then began
a tug of deadly massacring and wrestling, man to man, with bayonets,
with butts of muskets, with hands, even with teeth, such as was never
seen before. The shore of Mützel is thick with men and horses, who have
tried to cross, and lie swallowed in the ooze.”[119]

[Illustration: BATTLE OF ZORNDORF, AUGUST 25, 1758.

_a a. Prussian Army about to cross the Mützel. b b b. Russian Army
ranked for Battle. c. Russian Baggage. d d. Prussian Infantry. e e.
Prussian Cavalry. f. Prussian Baggage._]

This lasted till nightfall. As darkness veiled the awful scene the
exhausted soldiers dropped upon the ground, and, regardless of the dead
and of the groans of the wounded, borne heavily upon the night air,
slept almost side by side. It is appalling to reflect upon what a fiend
to humanity man has been, as revealed in the history of the nations.
All the woes of earth combined are as nothing compared with the misery
which man has inflicted upon his brother.

During the night bands of barbarian, half-drunken Cossacks ranged the
field, plundering the wounded and the dead, friends and foes alike, and
thrusting their bayonets through those who presented any remonstrance,
or who might, by any possibility, call them to account. Four hundred
of these wretches the equally merciless Prussians drove into a barn,
fastened them in, set fire to the building, and burned them all to
ashes. During the carnage of this bloody day the Russians lost, in
killed, wounded, and missing, 21,539. The Prussians lost 11,390, more
than one third of their number.

General Fermor availed himself of the darkness in withdrawing his
troops, now numbering but 28,000, a mile west from the battle-field
to a dense forest of firs, called Drewitz Heath. Frederick arranged
his little remaining band of but eighteen thousand men in two lines,
facing the foe. The next morning, Saturday, the 26th, General Fermor
sent a request for a truce of three days to bury the dead. The reply
was, “Your proposal is entirely inadmissible. The victor will bury
the slain.” There was no serious resumption of the conflict on that
day. Both parties were alike exhausted, and had alike expended nearly
all their ammunition. Frederick’s hussars had, however, found out the
position of the Russian baggage train, and had effectually plundered a
large portion of it.

Saturday night was very dark. A thick mist mantled the landscape. About
midnight, the Russians, feigning an artillery attack upon a portion of
the Prussian lines, commenced a retreat. Groping their way through the
woods south of Zorndorf, they reached the great road to Landsberg, and
retreated so rapidly that Frederick could annoy them but little.

Several well-authenticated anecdotes are given respecting the conduct
of Frederick on this occasion, which illustrate the various phases in
the character of this extraordinary man. The evening before the battle
of Zorndorf, the king, having completed his arrangements for a conflict
against vastly unequal numbers, upon whose issue were dependent
probably both his throne and his life, sent for a member of his staff
of some literary pretensions, and spent some time in criticising and
amending one of the poems of Rousseau. Was this an affected display of
calmness, the result of vanity? Was it an adroit measure to impress
the officers with a conviction of his own sense of security? Was it an
effort to throw off the terrible pressure which was upon his mind, as
the noble Abraham Lincoln often found it to be a moral necessity to
indulge in a jest even amidst scenes of the greatest anguish? Whatever
may have been the motive, the fact is worthy of record.

Immediately after the battle Sir Andrew Mitchell called upon the king
to congratulate him upon his great victory. General Seidlitz, who had
led the two decisive cavalry charges, was in the royal tent. The king,
in reply to the congratulations of the English minister, pointed to
General Seidlitz and said,

“Had it not been for him, things would have had a bad look by this

The town of Cüstrin, it will be remembered, was utterly consumed,
being set on fire by the shells of the Russians. The commandant of
the citadel was censured for not having prevented the calamity. He
immediately sought an interview with the king, endeavoring to apologize
for his conduct. The king, perhaps justly, perhaps very unjustly,
interrupted him, saying,

“I find no fault with you; the blame is entirely my own in having
appointed you to such a post.”

The utter ruin of the town of Cüstrin, and the misery of its houseless
and starving population, seemed to affect the king deeply. To the
inhabitants, who clustered around him, he said, kindly,

“My children, I could not come to you sooner, or this calamity should
not have happened. Have a little patience, and I will cause every thing
to be rebuilt.”

As has often been mentioned, the carnage of the battle-field
constitutes by no means the greater part of the miseries of war. One of
the sufferers from the conflagration of the city of Cüstrin gives the
following graphic account of the scene. It was the 15th of August, 1758:

“The enemy threw such a multitude of bombs and red-hot balls into the
city that by nine o’clock in the morning it burned, with great fury,
in three different places. The fire could not be extinguished, as the
houses were closely built, and the streets narrow. The air appeared
like a shower of fiery rain and hail. The surprised inhabitants had not
time to think of any thing but of saving their lives by getting into
the open fields.

“I, as well as many others, had hardly time to put on my clothes. As
I was leading my wife, with a young child in her arms, and my other
children and servants before me - who were almost naked, having, ever
since the first fright, run about as they got out of bed - the bombs
and red-hot balls fell round about us. The bombs, in their bursting,
dashed the houses to pieces, and every thing that was in their way.
Every body that could got out of the town as fast as possible. The
crowd of naked and in the highest degree wretched people was vastly

“Among the women were many of distinction, who had neither shoes nor
stockings, nor hardly any thing else on, thinking only of saving their
lives. When I had seen my family in the open field, I endeavored to
return and save something, if possible, but in vain. I could not force
my way through the multitude of people thronging out at the gate, some
few with horses and carriages, and others with the sick and bedridden
on their backs. The bombs and red-hot balls fell so thick that all
thought themselves happy if they could but escape with their lives.

“Many thousands are made miserable, inhabitants as well as strangers.
Many from the open country and defenseless towns in Prussia, Pomerania,
and the New Marche had fled hither, with their most valuable
effects, in hopes of security when the Russians entered the Prussian
territories; so that a great many who, a little while ago, were
possessed of considerable fortunes, are now reduced to beggary. On the
roads nothing was to be seen but misery, and nothing to be heard but
such cries and lamentations as were enough to move even the stones. No
one knew where to get a morsel of bread, nor what to do for farther
subsistence. The fire was so furious that the cannon in the store and
artillery houses were all melted. The loaded bombs and cartridges
for cannon and muskets, with a large quantity of gunpowder, went off
at once with a most horrible explosion. The fury of the enemy fell
almost entirely upon the inhabitants. They did not begin to batter the
fortifications, except with a few shot, till the 17th, after the rest
was all destroyed.”[120]



Frederick’s Attempt to Rescue his Brother. - Captured Dispatches. -
Battle of Hochkirch. - Defeat and Retreat of Frederick. - Death of
Wilhelmina. - Letter to Voltaire. - Rejoicings at Vienna. - The Siege
of Neisse. - The Siege of Dresden. - Conflagrations and Terror. -
The Siege raised by Frederick. - Results of the Third Campaign. -
Unavailing Efforts for Peace. - Despair of Frederick.

The battle of Zorndorf was the most bloody of the Seven Years’ War.
It is often considered the most furious battle which was ever fought.
While Frederick was engaged in this arduous campaign in the extreme
north, driving the Russians from the Prussian territory, an Austrian
army, ninety thousand strong, under General Daun, was endeavoring to
reconquer Saxony. The Prussian king had left his brother Henry in
defense of the province, with a small force garrisoned in the city of

On the 2d of September, 1758, Frederick, advancing from the smouldering
ruins of Cüstrin, pushed forward his columns by forced marches for the
rescue of his brother, who was nearly surrounded by vastly outnumbering
foes. While upon this rapid march an Austrian courier was captured,
with the following dispatch, which he was bearing from General Daun to
General Fermor, whose army of Russians had just been so terribly beaten
by Frederick upon the field of Zorndorf, but of which fact the Austrian
general had not yet been apprised:

“Your excellency does not know that wily enemy, the King of
Prussia, as well as I do. By no means get into a battle with him.
Cautiously manœuvre about. Detain him there till I have got my
stroke in Saxony done. Don’t try fighting him.


Frederick, with grim humor characteristic of him, sent back the courier
with the following response, as if from the Russian general, signed
Fermor, but in the king’s handwriting:

“Your excellency was right to warn me against a cunning enemy
whom you know better than I. Here have I tried fighting him, and
have got beaten. Your unfortunate



On the 12th of September Frederick dined with his brother Henry in
Dresden. General Daun, as soon as he heard of the approach of the foe
whom he so much dreaded, rapidly retreated eastward to Stolpen, on the
road to Bautzen. Here he intrenched himself in one of the strongest
posts in Germany. As Frederick, at Dresden, received his supplies from
Bautzen, he was much embarrassed in having his line of communication
thus cut. Finding all his efforts vain to provoke Daun to a battle,
after four weeks of such endeavors, he loaded his baggage trains with
supplies for nine days, and by a rapid march, brushing away in the
movement Daun’s right flank, and advancing through Bautzen, established
himself among the hills of Hochkirch. He had thus taken position thirty
miles east of General Daun’s encampment at Stolpen, cutting off his
line of supply.

This movement of Frederick took place on the 1st of October, 1758. On
the 5th, General Daun, who stood in great dread of the military ability
of his foe, after holding a council of war, made a stealthy march, in a
dark and rainy night, a little to the south of Frederick’s encampment,
and took a strong position about a mile east of him, at Kittlitz, near
Löbau. With the utmost diligence he reared intrenchments and palisades
to guard himself from attack by a foe whom he outnumbered more than two
to one. He thus again blocked Frederick’s direct communication with

General Daun’s army, numbering ninety thousand men, occupied very
strong positions in a line extending north and south about five
miles. On the 10th, Frederick, having obtained the needful supplies,
resolutely, rashly - but, situated as he was, what the world deemed
rashness was prudence - advanced with but twenty-eight thousand men
to assail this foe of ninety thousand behind his intrenchments. About
five miles to the north, in the rear of the heights of Weissenberg,
Frederick had a reserve of ten or twelve thousand men under General

As the Prussian king brought up his little army to within a mile of the
lines of General Daun, and ordered the troops to take position there,
his boldest generals were appalled. It seemed to be courting sure and
utter destruction. The king’s favorite adjutant general, Marwitz,
ventured to remonstrate against so fearful a risk. He was immediately
ordered under arrest. The line was formed while the Austrian cannon
were playing incessantly upon it. General Retzow, who for some cause
had failed to seize the heights of Stromberg, was also placed under
arrest. Thus the king taught all that he would be obeyed implicitly and
without questioning.

General Keith, as he looked upon the long and compact lines of General
Daun, and saw how apparently easy it would be for him, from his
commanding position, to annihilate the Prussian army, said to the king,

“If the Austrians do not attack us here they deserve to be hanged.”

The king coolly replied, “We must hope that they are more afraid of us
than even of the gallows.”

On Friday, the 13th of October, the two hostile armies, separated
merely by a brook and a ravine, were within half a mile of each other.
Daun had manifested great timidity in not venturing from behind his
intrenchments to attack the little band of Prussians. Frederick,
emboldened by this cowardice on the part of his opponent, made his
arrangements to assail the Austrians in a secret attack before the dawn
of the morning of Saturday, the 14th. In the mean time, Daun, probably
a little ashamed of being held at bay by so small a force, formed his
plan to surround and destroy the whole Prussian army. It is generally
conceded by military critics that the plan was admirably conceived,
and would have been triumphantly executed but for the singular ability
displayed by Frederick.

General Daun directed the energies of his ninety thousand troops upon
the right wing of the Prussians, which could not number more than
twenty thousand men. As soon as it was dark on Friday night, the 13th,
he sent thirty thousand men, under guides familiar with every rod
of the country, by a circuitous route, south of the Prussian lines,
through forest roads, to take position on the west of the Prussian
right wing, just in its rear. General Daun himself accompanied this
band of picked men.

At three o’clock of a dark and misty morning, the Austrians from the
west, the south, and the east rushed upon the sleeping Prussians. At
the same time, an attack was made upon the left wing of the Prussians,
which was a feint to bewilder them, and to prevent re-enforcements
from being sent to the right wing. For five hours there was a scene
of tumult, confusion, and horror which can neither be described nor
imagined. The morning was dark, the fog dense, and the Prussians,
though ever on the alert, were taken by surprise. No one in the army
of Frederick thought either of running or of surrendering. It was a
hand-to-hand fight, with bayonets, and sabres, and butts of muskets.
Marshal Keith, after receiving two bullet-wounds which he did not
regard, was shot through the heart.

[Illustration: BATTLE OF HOCHKIRCH, OCTOBER 14, 1758.

_a a a. First Position of the Austrian Army. b b. Extreme Left,
under Loudon. c c. Austrian Reserve, under Baden-Durlach.
d d d. Prussian Army. e e. The two main Prussian Batteries.
f. Ziethen’s Cavalry. g g. Prussian Vanguard, under Retzow.
h h h. Advance of Austrian Army. i. Right Wing, under D’Ahremberg.
k k k. Position taken by the Prussians after the battle._]

As the morning dawned it was manifest to Frederick that the battle was
lost, and that there was no salvation for the remnant of his troops
but in a precipitate retreat. He had lost a hundred pieces of cannon,
nearly all of his tents and camp furniture, and over eight thousand of
his brave troops were either dead or captive. Though the Austrians had
lost about the same number of men, they had still over eighty thousand

With wonderful skill, Frederick conducted his retreat about four miles
to the northwest. Here he took a strong position at Doberschütz, and
again bade defiance to the Austrians. Slowly, proudly, and in perfect
order he retired, as if merely shifting his ground. His cavalry was
drawn up as on parade, protecting his baggage-wagons as they defiled
through the pass of Drehsa. The Austrians gazed quietly upon the
movement, not venturing to renew the attack by daylight upon such
desperate men.

Though, as we may see from Frederick’s private correspondence, he
suffered terribly in these hours of adversity and peril, he assumed
in public a tranquil and even a jocose air. Meeting De Catt upon the
evening of that dreadful day, he approached him, smiling, and with
theatric voice and gesture declaimed a passage from Racine, the purport
of which was, “Well, here you see me not a conqueror, but vanquished.”

While on the retreat, one of his aids approached him, and the king,
with a smile, said, “Daun has played me a slippery trick to-day.”

“I have seen it,” was the reply; “but it is only a scratch, which your
majesty will soon heal again.”

“Do you think so?” inquired the king.

“Not only I,” the aid replied, “but the whole army, firmly believe it
of your majesty.”

“You are quite right,” responded the king. “We will manage Daun. What I
lament is the number of brave men who have died this morning.”

The next day he remarked, “Daun has let us out of checkmate. The game
is not lost yet. We will rest ourselves here for a few days, then we
will go to Silesia and deliver Neisse. But where are all your guns?” he
said, playfully, to an artilleryman, who stood, vacant, on parade.

“Your majesty,” replied the gunner, “the devil stole them all last

“Ah!” said the king, gayly, “we must have them back from him again.”

The fourth day after this dreadful defeat the king received the tidings
of the death of Wilhelmina. It was apparently the heaviest blow he had
ever encountered. The anguish which her death caused him he did not
attempt to conceal. In a business letter to Prince Henry we find this
burst of feeling:

“Great God! my sister of Baireuth, my noble Wilhelmina, dead; died in
the very hours while we were fighting here.”

The king, in a letter to Voltaire upon this occasion, writes:

“It will have been easy for you to conceive my grief when you
reflect upon the loss I have had. There are some misfortunes
which are reparable by constancy and courage, but there are
others against which all the firmness with which one can arm
one’s self, and all the reasonings of philosophers, are only vain
and useless attempts at consolation.[121] Of the latter kind is
the one with which my unhappy fate overwhelms me, at a moment
the most embarrassing and the most anxious of my whole life. I
have not been so sick as you have heard. My only complaints are
colics, sometimes hemorrhoidal, and sometimes nephritic.

“If it had depended upon me, I would willingly have devoted
myself to that death which those maladies sooner or later bring
upon one, in order to save and prolong the life of her whose
eyes are now closed. I beseech you never to forget her. Collect
all your powers to raise a monument to her honor. You need only
do her justice. Without any way abandoning the truth, she will
afford you an ample and beautiful subject. I wish you more repose
and happiness than falls to my lot.


The court at Vienna received with transports of joy the tidings of the
victory of Hochkirch. The pope was greatly elated. He regarded the
battle as one between the Catholic and Protestant powers. The holy
father, Clement XIII., sent a letter of congratulation to Marshal
Daun, together with a sword and hat, both blessed by his holiness.
The occurrence excited the derision of Frederick, who was afterward
accustomed to designate his opponent as “the blessed general with the
papal hat.” Frederick remained at Doberschütz ten days. During this
time his brother Henry joined him from Dresden with six thousand foot
and horse. This raised his force to a little above thirty thousand
men. General Finck was left in command of the few Prussian troops who
remained for the defense of the capital of Saxony.

The Austrian general, flushed with victory, at the head of eighty
thousand troops, encamped in strong positions a few miles east of
Frederick, on the road to Neisse, in Silesia. Narrowly he watched the
movements of his Prussian majesty, but he did not venture to molest
him. Neisse was at that time closely besieged by the Austrians. It
would inevitably soon fall into their hands unless Frederick could
march to its succor. The great strategic object of the Austrian
commander was so to block up the road as to prevent the advance of the
Prussian troops. Frederick, despising the inactivity of his cautious
foe, said to his brother,

“Daun has thrown up his cards, so the game is not yet lost. Let us
repose ourselves for some days, and then go to the assistance of

In the mean while, Marshal Daun was so confident that Frederick, with
but thirty thousand men, could not drive him from his intrenchments,
guarded by eighty thousand veteran troops, that he wrote to General
Harsch, who was conducting the siege of Neisse,

“Go on quietly with your siege. I have the king within my grasp. He is
cut off from Silesia except by attacking me. If he does that, I hope to
give you a good account of what happens.”[124]

On Tuesday evening, October 24, 1758, Frederick, in a rapid and secret
march, protected by darkness, pushed his whole army around the right
wing of the Austrian encampment, and took a very strong position at
Reichenbach, in the rear of Marshal Daun, and on the road to Neisse.
The Austrian general, astonished at this bold and successful manœuvre,
now found that the march of Frederick to Neisse could by no possibility
be prevented except by attacking him on his own chosen ground. This

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 38 of 52)