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History of Frederick the Second online

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he did not dare to do. He therefore resolved to make a rush with his
whole army to the west for the capture of Dresden. Frederick, in the
mean time, by forced marches, was pressing forward to the east for the
relief of Neisse. Thus the two armies were flying from each other in
opposite directions.

When the Austrian general conducting the siege at Neisse heard of the
rapid approach of Frederick, he, in consternation, blew up many of
his works, abandoned several guns, and, on the 6th of November, fled
with his army over the hills to the south, to take shelter in Austria.
Frederick triumphantly entered Neisse, and, having driven the Austrians
from every outpost, commenced, with a recruited army, his return march
to Dresden. The more slow-footed Daun did not reach Dresden till the
8th of the month. The city, outside of the walls, was crowded with the
dwellings of the more respectable citizens, and the beautiful mansions
of the wealthy. The King of Poland was Elector of Saxony, and was in
alliance with Austria. For the Austrian commander to pursue any measure
which should lead to the destruction, in whole or in part, of this
beautiful capital, would inflict a terrible blow upon the subjects of
the ally of Austria.

As General Daun approached the city, the Prussian general who had been
left in command of the small garrison there sent word to him that,
should he menace Dresden with his forces, the Prussian commander would
be under the necessity of setting fire to the suburbs, as a measure of
self-defense. Daun, expostulating vehemently against so cruel an act,
regardless of the menace, approached the city on the 9th of November,
and at midnight commenced rearing his batteries for the bombardment.
In the mean time the Prussian general had filled many of the largest
houses with combustibles. As the clock struck three in the morning the
torch was applied. The unhappy inhabitants had but three hours’ notice
that their houses were to be surrendered to destruction. Instantly the
flames burst forth with terrific fury in all directions. Sir Andrew
Mitchel, who witnessed the conflagration, writes:

“The whole suburb seemed on a blaze. Nay, you would have said the whole
town was environed in flames. I will not describe to your lordship
the horror, the terror, the confusion of this night; the wretched
inhabitants running with their furniture toward the great garden. All
Dresden, in appearance, girt with flames, ruin, and smoke.”

The army of General Daun, with its re-enforcements, amounted to one
hundred thousand men. The Prussian garrison in the city numbered but
ten thousand. The Prussian officer then in command, General Schmettau,
emboldened by the approach of Frederick, repelled all proposals for

“I will defend myself,” he said, “by the known rules of war and honor
to the last possible moment.”

On the 15th of November Frederick arrived at Lauban, within a hundred
miles of Dresden. General Daun immediately raised the siege and retired
into Bohemia. Frederick marched triumphantly into the city. Thus, as
the extraordinary result of the defeat at Hochkirch, Frederick, by
the exhibition of military ability which astonished Europe, regained
Neisse, retained Dresden, and swept both Silesia and Saxony entirely
free of his foes. Frederick remained in Dresden about a month. He then
retired to Breslau, in Silesia, for winter quarters. The winter was
a very sad one to him. Private griefs and public calamities weighed
heavily upon his heart.[125] Though during the year he had destroyed
a hundred thousand of his enemies, he had lost thirty thousand of his
own brave little band. It was almost impossible, by any energies of
conscription, to replace this waste of war. His treasury was exhausted.
Though he wrenched from the wretched Saxons every dollar which military
rapacity and violence could extort from them, still they were so
impoverished by the long and desolating struggle that but little money
could be found in the almost empty purses of a beggared people. Another
campaign was soon to open, in which the allies, with almost unlimited
resources of men and treasure, would again come crowding upon him in
all directions in overpowering numbers.

In a letter to his friend Lord Marischal, dated Dresden, November
23, 1758, just after the retreat of Daun into Bohemia from Saxony,
Frederick writes sadly,

“There is nothing left for us, my dear lord, but to mingle and blend
our weeping for the losses we have had. If my head were a fountain of
tears, it would not suffice for the grief I feel.

“Our campaign is over. And there is nothing come of it on the one
side or the other but the loss of a great many worthy people, the
misery of a great many poor soldiers crippled forever, the ruin of
some provinces, and the ravage, pillage, and conflagration of some
flourishing towns. These are exploits which make humanity suffer; sad
fruits of the wickedness and ambition of certain people in power, who
sacrifice every thing to their unbridled passions. I wish you, _mon
cher milord_, nothing that has the least resemblance to my destiny, and
every thing that is wanting to it.”

Thus ended in clouds, darkness, and woe the third campaign of the Seven
Years’ War. The winter was employed by both parties in preparing for
a renewal of the struggle. As the spring opened the allies had in the
field such a military array as Europe had never seen before. Three
hundred thousand men extended in a cordon of posts from the Giant
Mountains, near the borders of Silesia, to the ocean. In the north,
also, Russia had accumulated her vast armies for vigorous co-operation
with the southern troops. All the leading Continental powers - France,
Austria, Russia, Sweden, and the states of the German Empire - were
combined against Prussia. England alone was the inefficient ally
of Frederick. Small sums of money were loaned him from the British
cabinet; and the court of St. James, hostile in heart to the Prussian
king, co-operated with him only so far as was deemed essential for the
promotion of British interests.

Perhaps never before was a monarch surrounded by difficulties so great.
The energy and sagacity Frederick displayed have never been surpassed,
if ever equaled.

It was a dreary winter to Frederick in Breslau. Sad, silent, and
often despairing, he was ever inflexibly resolved to struggle till
the last possible moment, and, if need be, to bury himself beneath
the ruins of his kingdom. All his tireless energies he devoted to the
Herculean work before him. No longer did he affect gayety or seek
recreations. Secluded, solitary, sombre, he took counsel of no one. In
the possession of absolute power, he issued his commands as with the
authority of a god.

Frederick made several unavailing efforts during the winter to secure
peace. He was weary of a war which threatened his utter destruction.
The French were also weary of a struggle in which they encountered
but losses and disgraces. England had but little to hope for from the
conflict, and would gladly see the exhaustive struggle brought to a

“Many men in all nations long for peace. But there are three women at
the top of the world who do not. Their wrath, various in quality, is
great in quantity, and disasters do the reverse of appeasing it.”[126]

Of these three women who then held the destinies of Europe in their
hands, one only, Maria Theresa, in the estimation of the public, had
good cause for war. Frederick was undeniably a highway robber, seeking
to plunder her. She was heroically, nobly struggling in self-defense.
The guilty Duchess of Pompadour, who, having the entire control of the
infamous king, Louis XV., was virtually the Empress of France, stung
by an insult from Frederick, did not hesitate to deluge Europe in
blood, that she might take the vengeance of a “woman scorned” upon her
foe. Catharine II., Empress of Russia, who in moral pollution rivaled
the most profligate of kings - whom Carlyle satirizes as “a kind of
she Louis XIV.” - also stung by one of Frederick’s witty and bitter
epigrams, was mainly impelled by personal pique to push forth her
armies into the bloody field.

The impartial student of history must admit that, were the government
of the world taken from the hands of men, and placed in the hands of
women, still the anticipated millennium of righteousness and peace
might be far distant.

In the following letter, which Frederick wrote at this time to his
friend D’Argens, he unbosoms his sorrows with unusual frankness. The
letter was dated Breslau, March 1, 1759:

“I have passed my winter like a Carthusian monk. I dine alone. I spend
my life in reading and writing, and I do not sup. When one is sad, it
becomes, at last, too burdensome to hide one’s grief continually. It
is better to give way to it than to carry one’s gloom into society.
Nothing solaces me but the vigorous application required in steady and
continuous labor. This distraction does force one to put away painful
ideas while it lasts. But alas! no sooner is the work done than these
fatal companions present themselves again, as if livelier than ever.
Maupertuis was right; the sum of evil does certainly surpass that of
good. But to me it is all one. I have almost nothing more to lose; and
my few remaining days - what matters it much of what complexion they

During this dismal winter of incessant and almost despairing labor
the indefatigable king wrote several striking treatises on military
affairs. It is manifest that serious thoughts at times occupied his
mind. He doubtless reflected that if there were a God who took any
cognizance of human affairs, there must be somewhere responsibility to
Him for the woes with which these wars were desolating humanity. To the
surprise of De Catt, the king presented him one evening with a sermon
upon “The Last Judgment,” from his own pen. He also put upon paper his
thoughts “On the new kind of tactics necessary with the Austrians and
their allies.” He seems himself to have been surprised that he had been
able so long to resist such overpowering numbers. In allusion to the
allies he writes:

“To whose continual sluggishness and strange want of concert - to whose
incoherency of movements, languor of execution, and other enormous
faults, we have owed, with some excuse for our own faults, our escape
from destruction hitherto.”[127]



Desperate Exertions of Frederick. - Aid from England. - Limited
Resources. - Opening of the Campaign. - Disgraceful Conduct of
Voltaire. - Letter to Voltaire. - An Act of Desperation. - Letter to
Count Finckenstein. - Frankfort taken by the Prussians. - Terrible
Battle of Kunersdorf. - Anguish of Frederick. - The Disastrous
Retreat. - Melancholy Dispatch. - Contemplating Suicide. - Collecting
the Wrecks of the Army. - Consternation in Berlin. - Letters to
D’Argens. - Wonderful Strategical Skill. - Literary Efforts of the

By the most extraordinary exertions, which must have almost depopulated
his realms of all the young men and those of middle age, Frederick
succeeded in so filling up his depleted ranks as to have in the opening
spring of 1759 two hundred thousand men in field and garrison. Indeed,
regardless of all the laws of nations, he often compelled the soldiers
and other men of conquered provinces to enlist in his armies. How he,
in his poverty, obtained the pecuniary resources requisite to the
carrying on of such a war, is to the present day a matter of amazement.

England furnished him with a subsidy of about four million dollars. He
immediately melted this coin, gold and silver, and adulterated it with
about half copper, thus converting his four millions into nominally
eight millions. But a few weeks of such operations as he was engaged in
would swallow up all this. The merciless conscription, grasping nearly
every able-bodied man, destroyed nearly all the arts of industry. The
Prussian realms, thus impoverished by war’s ravages and taxation, could
furnish the king with very meagre supplies. When the king invaded any
portion of the territory of the allies, he wrenched from the beggared
people every piece of money which violence or terror could extort.
Wealthy merchants were thrown into prison, and fed upon bread and water
until they yielded. The most terrible severities were practiced to
extort contributions from towns which had been stripped and stripped
again. Still violence could wrench but little from the skinny hand of
beggary. These provinces, swept by war’s surges year after year, were
in the most deplorable state of destitution and misery.

From the schedule which Frederick has given of his resources, it seems
impossible that he could have raised more than about fifteen million
dollars annually, even counting his adulterated coin at the full value.
How, with this sum, he could have successfully confronted all combined
Europe, is a mystery which has never yet been solved. It was the great
object of both parties in this terrible conflict to destroy every thing
in the enemy’s country which could by any possibility add to military
power. All the claims of humanity were ignored. The starvation of
hundreds of thousands of peasants - men, women, and children - was a
matter not to be taken into consideration. The French minister, in
Paris, wrote to Marshal De Contades on the 5th of October, 1758,

“You must make a desert of Westphalia. With regard to the countries of
Lippe and Padeborn, as these are very fertile provinces, you must take
great care to destroy every thing in them without exception.”

Early in the spring of 1759 the Prussian king had gathered the main
body of his troops in fortresses and strong positions in the vicinity
of Landshut, on the southwestern frontier of Silesia. The enemy,
under General Daun, faced him, in longer and denser lines, equally
well intrenched. At the same time, powerful bands of the allies were
in various parts of Europe, menacing the domains of Frederick at
every vulnerable point. The allies dreaded the prowess of their foe.
Frederick was compelled to caution by the exhaustless numbers of his
opponents. Thus for many weeks neither party entered upon any decisive
action. There was, however, an almost incessant series of fierce and
bloody skirmishes.

The ability which Frederick displayed in striking his enemies where
they would most keenly feel the infliction, and in warding off the
blows they attempted in return, excited then the surprise of Europe,
and has continued to elicit the astonishment of posterity. It would but
weary the reader to attempt a description of these conflicts at the
outposts, terrible as they often were.

During this time, in May, the king wrote a very bitter and satirical
ode against Louis XV. - “the plaything of the Pompadour,” “polluted
with his amours,” “and disgracefully surrendering the government of
his realms to chance.” The ode he sent to Voltaire. The unprincipled
poet, apprehending that the ode might come to light, and that he might
be implicated, treacherously sent it to the prime minister, the Duke
De Choiseul, to be shown to the king. At the same time, he wrote to
Frederick that he had burned the ode. In the account which Voltaire
himself gives of this disgraceful transaction, he writes:

“The packet had been opened. The king would think I was guilty of high
treason, and I should be in disgrace with Madame De Pompadour. I was
obliged, in order to prevent my ruin, to make known to the court the
character and conduct of their enemy.

“I knew that the Duke De Choiseul would content himself with persuading
the King of France that the King of Prussia was an irreconcilable
enemy, whom it was therefore necessary, if possible, to annihilate.

“I wrote to Frederick that his ode was beautiful, but that he had
better not make it public, lest it should close all the avenues to a
reconciliation with the King of France, incense him irremediably, and
thus force him to strain every nerve in vengeance.

“I added that my niece had burned his ode from fear that it should
be imputed to me. He believed me and thanked me; not, however,
without some reproaches for having burned the best verses he had ever

The latter part of June, an army of a hundred thousand Russians,
having crossed the Vistula, was concentrated, under General Soltikof,
at Posen, on the River Warta, in Poland. They were marching from the
northeast to attack the Prussian forces near Landshut in their rear.
General Daun, with a still larger force of Austrians, was confronting
Frederick on the southwest. The plan of the allies was to crush their
foe between these two armies. Frederick had lost the ablest of his
generals. The young men who were filling their places were untried.

The Russians, triumphantly advancing, entered Silesia, and reached
Crossen, on the Oder, within a hundred miles of Frederick’s encampment.

Some trifling unavailing efforts had been made for peace. In reply to a
letter from Voltaire, alluding to this subject, Frederick wrote, under
date of 2d July, 1759:

“Asking _me_ for peace is indeed a bitter joke. It is to Louis XV. you
must address yourself, or to his Amboise in petticoats.[129] But these
people have their heads filled with ambitious projects. They wish to be
the sovereign arbiters of sovereigns. That is what persons of my way
of thinking will by no means put up with. I like peace as much as you
could wish, but I want it good, solid, and honorable. Socrates or Plato
would have thought as I do on this subject had they found themselves in
the accursed position which is mine in the world.

“Think you there is any pleasure in living this dog’s life, in
seeing and causing the butchery of people you know nothing of, in
losing daily those you do know and love, in seeing perpetually your
reputation exposed to the caprices of chance, passing year after year
in disquietudes and apprehensions, in risking without end your life and
your fortune?

“I know right well the value of tranquillity, the sweets of society,
the charms of life. I love to be happy as much as any one whatever.
But, much as I desire these blessings, I will not purchase them by
baseness and infamies. Philosophy enjoins us to do our duty faithfully,
to serve our country at the price of our blood, of our repose, and of
every sacrifice which can be required of us.”[130]

Soon after this Frederick dispatched a young and impetuous officer,
General Wedell, invested with dictatorial powers, at the head of
twenty-six thousand men, to attack the Russian army, at every hazard,
and arrest its march. The heroic little band of Prussians met the
Russians at Züllichau. One of General Wedell’s officers remonstrated
against the attack.

“The risk is too great,” said he; “Soltikof has seventy thousand men,
and no end of artillery. We have but twenty-six thousand, and know not
that we can bring a single gun to where Soltikof is.”

Still the order was given for the assault. The Prussians plunged
into the dense ranks of their foes, regardless of being outnumbered
nearly three to one. A terrible battle was fought. General Wedell was
overpowered and beaten. He retreated across the Oder, having lost six
thousand men in killed, wounded, and prisoners. The victorious Russians
did not pursue him. They marched down the river to Frankfort, where
they effected a junction with other troops, giving them an effective
force of ninety-six thousand fighting men.

Frederick received the disastrous news on the 24th of July, the
day after the calamity. In the exercise of an unusual spirit of
forbearance, he sent word to the defeated general, “It is not your
fault; I dreaded something of the kind.” The king’s brother Henry was
in command of a few thousand men near Bautzen, in Saxony. Frederick
wrote to him to forward his troops immediately, so as to form a union
with the retreating army under Wedell. Henry himself was to repair to
the vicinity of Landshut, and take command of the army which was to be
left in that vicinity confronting General Daun. The king took about
thirty thousand picked troops, and hurried to the north to gather up
by the way the troops of Henry and of Wedell, and with that combined
force of forty-eight thousand men make a new attack upon the ninety-six
thousand Russians.[131]

It was an act of desperation. The king fully appreciated its peril. But
the time had long since passed when he could rely upon the ordinary
measures of prudence. In despair was his only hope.

On the 29th of July the king joined his brother Henry at Sagan, on the
Bober, about sixty miles above or south of Frankfort. The marches
which had been effected by the king and his brother were the most
rapid which had _then_ ever been heard of. Greatly perplexed by the
inexplicable movements of the Russians, the king pressed on till he
effected a junction with the remnant of Wedell’s defeated army, near
Müllrose, within twelve miles of Frankfort. He reached this place on
the 3d of August. To Count Finckenstein he wrote:

“I am just arrived here after cruel and frightful marchings.
There is nothing desperate in all that. I believe the noise and
disquietude this hurly-burly has caused will be the worst of
it. Show this letter to every body, that it may be known that
the state is not undefended. I have made about one thousand
prisoners from Haddick.[132] All his meal-wagons have been taken.
Finck,[133] I believe, will keep an eye on him. This is all I can
say. To-morrow I march to within two leagues of Frankfort. Katte
must instantly send me two hundred tons of meal and one hundred
bakers. I am very tired. For six nights I have not closed an eye.


The Russians, with empty meal-wagons and starving soldiers, had taken
possession of Frankfort-on-the-Oder on the 29th of July. The city
contained twelve thousand inhabitants. The ransom which the Russian
general demanded to save the city from pillage by the Cossacks was
four hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Pillage by the Cossacks! No
imagination can conceive the horrors of such an event. Nearly one
hundred thousand men, frenzied with intoxication, brutal in their
habits, restrained by no law, would inflict every outrage which fiends
could conceive of. Well might fathers and mothers, sons and daughters,
turn pale and feel the blood curdle in their veins at the thought.
Four hundred and fifty thousand dollars ransom! That was nearly forty
dollars for each individual, man, woman, and child! Compliance with
the demand was impossible. Frankfort, in its impoverishment, could
by no possibility raise a tenth part of the sum. Dreadful was the
consternation. There was no relenting; the money or the pillage!

With the utmost exertions, inspired by terror, thirty thousand dollars
were at length raised. The Russian general, Soltikof, naturally a
humane man, seeing, at the close of a week of frantic exertions on the
part of the magistrates of Frankfort, the impossibility of extorting
the required sum, took the thirty thousand dollars, and kept his
barbarian hordes encamped outside the gates.


Frankfort is on the west side of the Oder. The Russian army was
encamped on the eastern side of the river. The force collected there
consisted of about seventy-eight thousand Russians and eighteen
thousand Austrians. Frederick had, by great exertions, gathered fifty
thousand troops to attack them. He was approaching Frankfort from the
southwest. In a secret midnight march he crossed the river by bridges
of boats some miles north of the city, near Cüstrin. At four o’clock
in the morning of the 11th of August his troops had all accomplished
the passage of the stream, and, to the surprise of the Russians, were
marching down upon them from the north.

Vastly superior as was the Russian army in numbers, General Soltikof
did not venture to advance to attack his terrible foe. He had selected
a very strong position on a range of eminences about one hundred feet
high, running for several miles in an easterly direction from the
river. Upon this ridge, which was called “the Heights of Kunersdorf,”
the Russian general had intrenched himself with the utmost care. The
surrounding country was full of bogs, and sluggish streams, and a
scraggy growth of tough and thorny bushes, almost impenetrable.

Had the Prussian troops been placed on those heights, behind that
formidable array of ramparts, and palisades, and abatis, they could

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 39 of 52)