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

History of Frederick the Second online

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with ease have repelled the assaults of three or four times their
number. But now they were to undertake the desperate enterprise of
advancing to the assault under the greatest disadvantages, with one
to attack where there were two to defend. Frederick rapidly advanced
from crossing the stream, and the same evening, Saturday, August 11th,
encamped at Bischofsee, at the distance of about two miles to the
northeast of the intrenched camp of his foes. The king, accompanied by
a small escort, rode forward to the knolls of Trettin, and anxiously
surveyed with his glass the fearful array of his foes in their long,
compact, well-defended lines, arranged in an elongated irregular
parallelogram.

About three o’clock the next morning, Sunday, August 12th, Frederick’s
army, in two columns, was again in motion. By a slightly circuitous
march through the dense forest the king placed his troops in position
to approach from the southeast, so as to attack the left flank of the
enemy, being the northern extremity of the parallelogram.

I shall not attempt to describe the battle which ensued - so bloody,
so disastrous to the Prussians. It was, like all other desperate
battles, a scene of inconceivable confusion, tumult, and horror. At
eight o’clock in the morning, General Finck (who was in command of the
right wing of the Prussians) was in position to move upon the extreme
northern point of attack. It was not until half past eleven that
Frederick, in command of the main body of the army, was ready to make a
co-operative assault from the east. At the point of attack the Russians
had seventy-two cannons in battery. The Prussians opened upon them
with sixty guns. Templeton describes the cannonade as the loudest which
he had yet ever heard.

After half an hour of rapid and terrific fire, the Prussian troops
were ordered to advance and storm the works of the foe on the Mühlberg
Hill. Like wolves in the chase, these men of iron nerves rushed forward
through torrents of grape-shot and musket-shot, which covered their
path with the dead. In ten minutes they were in possession of the
hill-top, with all its batteries. The left wing of the Russian army was
thrown into a maelstrom whirl of disorder and destruction. One hundred
and eighty of the artillery pieces of the enemy fell into the hands of
the victors.

Frederick was overjoyed. He regarded the day as his own, and the
Russian army as at his mercy. He sent a dispatch to anxious Berlin, but
sixty miles distant: “The Russians are beaten. Rejoice with me.” It was
one of the hottest of August days, without a breath of wind. Nearly
every soldier of the Prussian army had been brought into action against
the left wing only of the foe. After a long march and an exhausting
fight, they were perishing with thirst. For twelve hours many of them
had been without water. Panting with heat, thirst, and exhaustion, they
were scarcely capable of any farther efforts.

Just then eighteen thousand fresh Russian troops advanced upon them in
solid phalanx from their centre and their right wing. It was nearly
three o’clock in the afternoon. The fugitive Russians were rallied.
With new impetuosity the re-enforced band hurled itself upon the
Prussians. They speedily regained their hundred and eighty guns, and
opened upon the ranks of Frederick such torrents of grape-shot as no
flesh and blood could endure. Huge gaps were torn through his lines.
His men recoiled, whirled round, and were driven pell-mell from the
hill.

Thrice Frederick in person led the charge against the advancing foe.
He had three horses shot under him. A gold snuffbox in his pocket was
flattened by a bullet. His friends entreated him not thus to peril a
life upon which every thing depended. He was deaf to all remonstrances.
It is manifest that, in his despair, he sought a soldier’s grave.

On came the Russians in ever-increasing numbers. Frederick’s heavy
artillery, each piece drawn by twelve horses, could not be brought
forward through the bogs, and the entangling woods, and over the rugged
heights. Though the Prussians fought with all the energies mortal valor
could inspire, and though the king flew from post to post of peril and
of death, animating his troops by voice and gesture, and by his own
reckless courage, it was all in vain. Hope soon died in all hearts. The
king was heard despairingly to exclaim, “Is there not one bullet which
can reach me, then?”

Frederick had seen many dark days before, but never one so dark as
this. In the frenzy of his exertions to retrieve the lost battle,
he cried out to his soldiers, his eyes being flooded with tears,
“Children, do not forsake me, your king, your father, in this pinch!”
The retreat became a flight. In endeavoring to cross the little
stream called the Hen-Floss, there was such crowding and jamming at
the bridges that the Prussians were compelled to leave one hundred
and sixty-five guns of various calibre behind them. Had the Russians
pursued with any vigor, scarcely a man of the Prussian army could have
escaped. But General Soltikof stood in such fear of his opponent, who
had often wrested victory out of defeat, that he attempted no pursuit.

In broken bands the Prussians retreated down by the way of Oetscher to
the bridges at Göritz, where they had crossed the Oder, and where their
heavy baggage was stationed. Frederick was among the last to quit the
fatal field. As a swarm of Cossacks approached the spot where he stood,
a party of his friends charged them fiercely, cutting to the right and
left, and held them for a moment at bay. One of Frederick’s adjutants
seized the bridle of his horse, and galloped off with the unresisting
monarch.

At the bridges Frederick found but three thousand men of his late army.
The huts around were filled with the wounded and the dying, presenting
an aspect of misery which, in these hours of terrible defeat, appalled
his majesty. In one of these huts, surrounded by mutilated bodies,
groans, and death, Frederick wrote the following dispatch to his
minister (Finckenstein) at Berlin. It was dated Oetscher, August 12,
1759:

“I attacked the enemy this morning about eleven. We beat him
back to the Jews’ Church-yard, near Frankfort.[134] All my troops
came into action, and have done wonders. I reassembled them three
times. At length I was myself nearly taken prisoner, and we had
to quit the field. My coat is riddled with bullets. Two horses
were killed under me.[135] My misfortune is that I am still
alive. Our loss is very considerable. Of an army of forty-eight
thousand men, I have at this moment, while I write, not more than
three thousand together. I am no longer master of my forces.

In Berlin you will do well to think of your safety. It is a
great calamity. I will not survive it. The consequences of this
battle will be worse than the battle itself. I have no resources
more; and, to confess the truth, I hold all for lost. I will not
survive the destruction of my country. Farewell forever.

F.”

[Illustration: BATTLE OF KUNERSDORF, AUGUST 12, 1759.

_a a a. Russian Army. b b. Austrians, under Loudon. c c. Russian
Abatis. d. Russian Wagenburg. e e. Position of Prussian Army
Evening of 11th. f f. Vanguard, under Finck. g. Prussian Heavy
Baggage. h. Attack of Prussian Grenadiers. i i. Prussian main
Army. k k. Finck’s Line of Attack._]

Probably the reader will infer from the above letter that the king
felt that the hour had come for him to die, and that he intended to
resort to that most consummate act of folly and cowardice - suicide.
He had always avowed this to be his intention in the last resort. He
had urged his sister Wilhelmina to imitate his example in this respect,
and not to survive the destruction of their house. Ruin now seemed
inevitable. In the battle of Kunersdorf Frederick had lost, in killed
and wounded, nineteen thousand men, including nearly all the officers
of distinction, and also one hundred and sixty pieces of artillery. The
remainder of his army was so dispersed that it could not be rallied to
present any opposition to the foe.

Though General Soltikof had lost an equal number of men, he was still
at the head of nearly eighty thousand troops flushed with victory.
He could summon to his standard any desirable re-enforcements. An
unobstructed march of but sixty miles would lead his army into the
streets of Berlin. The affairs of Frederick were indeed desperate.
There was not a gleam of hope to cheer him. In preparation for his
retirement from the army, from the throne, and from life, he that
evening drew up the following paper, placing the fragments of the army
which he was about to abandon in the hands of General Finck. By the
death of the king, the orphan and infant child of his brother Augustus
William (who had died but a few months before) would succeed to the
throne. Frederick appointed his brother Henry generalissimo of the
Prussian army.

This notable paper, which reflects but little credit upon the character
of Frederick, was as follows:

“General Finck gets a difficult commission. The unlucky army
which I give up to him is no longer in a condition to make
head against the Russians. Haddick will now start for Berlin,
perhaps Loudon too.[136] If General Finck go after these, the
Russians will fall on his rear. If he continue on the Oder, he
gets Haddick on his flank. However, I believe, should Loudon go
for Berlin, he might attack Loudon and beat him. This, if it
succeeded, would be a stand against misfortune, and hold matters
up. Time gained is much in these desperate circumstances. Cöper,
my secretary, will send him the news from Torgau and Dresden. You
must inform my brother[137] of every thing, whom I have declared
generalissimo of the army. To repair this bad luck altogether is
not possible. But what my brother shall command must be done. The
army swears to my nephew. This is all the advice in these unhappy
circumstances I am in a condition to give. If I had still had
resources, I would have staid by them.

FREDERICK.”

It will be perceived that this paper is slightly less despairing than
the preceding letter which he had written to Count Finckenstein.
Frederick, having written the order to General Finck, threw himself,
in utter exhaustion, upon some straw in a corner of the hut, and fell
soundly asleep. The Prussian officers, passing by, gazed sadly through
the open door upon the sleeping monarch. A single sentinel guarded the
entrance.

The next morning Frederick crossed the river to Reitwein, on the
western bank. Here, during the day, broken bands of his army came in
to the number of twenty-three thousand. It would seem that a night
of refreshing sleep had so far recruited the exhausted energies of
the king that he was enabled to look a little more calmly upon the
ruin which enveloped him. He that day wrote as follows from Reitwein
to General Schmettau, who was in command of the Prussian garrison at
Dresden:

“You will, perhaps, have heard of the check I have met with from
the Russian army on the 13th[138] of this month. Though at bottom
our affairs in regard to the enemy here are not desperate, I find
I shall not be able to make any detachment for your assistance.
Should the Austrians attempt any thing against Dresden,
therefore, you will see if there are means of maintaining
yourself; failing which, it will behoove you to try and obtain a
favorable capitulation - to wit, liberty to withdraw, with the
whole garrison, moneys, magazines, hospital, and all that we have
at Dresden, either to Berlin or elsewhere, so as to join some
corps of my troops.

“As a fit of illness has come on me, which I do not think will
have dangerous results, I have, for the present, left the command
of my troops to Lieutenant General Von Finck, whose orders you
are to execute as if coming directly from myself. On this I pray
God[139] to have you in his holy and worthy keeping.

F.”

[Illustration: FREDERICK ASLEEP IN THE HUT AT OETSCHER.]

The consternation at Berlin, as contradictory reports of victory and
defeat reached the city, was indescribable. M. Sulzer, an eye-witness
of the scene, writes under date of Berlin, August 13th, 1759:

“Above fifty thousand human beings were on the palace esplanade and the
streets around, swaying hither and thither in an agony of expectation,
in alternate paroxysms of joy, of terror, and of woe. Often enough
the opposite paroxysms were simultaneous in the different groups. Men
crushed down by despair were met by men leaping into the air for very
gladness.”

As we have mentioned, the Russian general had such a dread of Frederick
that he did not dare to pursue him. In his report of the victory to
the Czarina Charlotte, speaking of his own heavy loss of over eighteen
thousand men, he writes, “Your majesty is aware that the King of
Prussia sells his victories at a dear rate.” To some who urged him to
pursue Frederick, he replied, “Let me gain but another such victory,
and I may go to Petersburg with the news of it myself alone, with my
staff in my hand.”

Frederick remained at Reitwein four days. He was very unjust to his
army, and angrily reproached his soldiers for their defeat. It is true
that, had every soldier possessed his own spirit, his army would have
conquered, or not a man would have left the field alive. The Russians,
with almost inconceivable inactivity, retired to Lossow, ten miles
south of Frankfort-on-the-Oder. The king, having by great exertions
collected thirty-two thousand men, marched up the valley of the Spree,
and placed himself on the road between the Russians and Berlin.

While on this march he wrote from Madlitz, under date of August 16th,
to Marquis D’Argens, at Berlin:

“We have been unfortunate, my dear marquis, but not by my fault. The
victory was ours, and would even have been a complete one, when our
infantry lost patience, and at the wrong moment abandoned the field of
battle. The Russian infantry is almost totally destroyed. Of my own
wrecks, all that I have been able to assemble amounts to thirty-two
thousand men. With these I am pushing on to throw myself across the
enemy’s road, and either perish or save the capital. This is not what
you will call a deficiency of resolution.

“For the event I can not answer. If I had more lives than one, I would
sacrifice them all to my country. But, if this stroke fail, I think
I am clear scores with her, and that it will be permissible to look
a little to myself. There are limits to every thing. I support my
misfortune. My courage is not abated by it. But I am well resolved,
after this stroke, if it fail, to open an outgate to myself, and no
longer be the sport of any chance.”[140]

Four days after, in anticipation of an immediate attack from the
Russians, he again wrote to the same address, “Remain at Berlin, or
retire to Potsdam. In a little while there will come some catastrophe.
It is not fit that you suffer by it. If things take a good turn, you
can be back to Berlin. If ill luck still pursue us, go to Hanover, or
to Zelle, where you can provide for your safety.”

The next day, the 21st of August, he wrote to D’Argens to come and
visit him, and bring his bed with him. “I will have you a little
chamber ready.” But the next day he wrote,

“Yesterday I wrote to you to come; to-day I forbid it. Daun is marching
upon Berlin. Fly these unhappy countries. This news obliges me again
to attack the Russians between here and Frankfort. You may imagine if
this is a desperate resolution. It is the sole hope that remains to me
of not being cut off from Berlin on the one side or the other. I will
give these discouraged troops brandy, but I promise myself nothing of
success. My one consolation is that I shall die sword in hand.”

Just after dispatching this letter he received one from D’Argens, to
which he immediately, on the same day, returned the following reply:

“Certainly I will fight. But do not flatter yourself about the result.
A happy chance alone can help us. Go, in God’s name to Tangermünde.
Wait there how destiny shall have disposed of us. I will reconnoitre
the enemy to-morrow. Next day, if there is any thing to do, we will try
it. If the enemy still holds to the Wine Hills of Frankfort, I shall
not dare to attack him.

“The torments of Tantalus, the pains of Prometheus, the doom of
Sisyphus, were nothing to the torments I have suffered for the last
ten days. Death is sweet in comparison with such a life. Pity me, and
believe that I still keep to myself a great many evil things, not
wishing to afflict or disquiet any body with them. Believe me that I
would not counsel you to fly these unlucky countries if I had any ray
of hope. Adieu, _mon cher_.”

The rumor that Daun was marching upon Berlin proved a false alarm. On
the 4th of September the king again wrote D’Argens from his encampment
at Waldau, a few leagues south of his last position, just over the
border in Saxony:

“I think Berlin is now in safety. You may return thither. The
barbarians are in the Lausitz. I keep by the side of them, between
them and Berlin, so that there is nothing to fear for the capital. The
imminency of danger is passed. But there will be still many bad moments
to get through before reaching the end of the campaign. These, however,
only regard myself. Never mind these. My martyrdom will last two months
yet. Then the snows and the ices will end it.”

General Schmettau had in Dresden a garrison of but three thousand
seven hundred men. It will be remembered that he would doubtless be
compelled to capitulate, and to do so on the best terms he could. But
his Prussian majesty, being now a little more hopeful, wrote to him
again, urging him to hold out to the last extremity, and informing him
that he had dispatched to his aid General Wunsch, with a re-enforcement
of eight thousand men, and General Finck with six thousand. The courier
was cut off. General Schmettau, entirely unconscious that relief was
coming, closely besieged, and threatened with the massacre of his whole
garrison should the place be taken by storm, on Tuesday evening, the
4th of September, surrendered the city.

It was a sore calamity to Frederick. Had General Schmettau held out
only until the next day, which he could easily have done, relief would
have arrived, and the city would have been saved. Frederick was in a
great rage, and was not at all in the mood to be merciful, or even
just. He dismissed the unfortunate general from his service, degraded
him, and left him to die in poverty.

Frederick had now under his command twenty-four thousand men. They were
mostly on the road between Frankfort and Berlin, for the protection
of the capital. His brother Henry, in the vicinity of Landshut, with
his head-quarters at Schmöttseifen, was in command of thirty-eight
thousand. The Russians and Austrians numbered one hundred and twenty
thousand. There was, however, but little cordial co-operation among the
allies. Each was accused of endeavoring to crowd the other to the front
of the battle against the terrible Frederick.

The Russians did not attempt to march upon Berlin. About the middle
of September General Soltikof gathered all his forces in hand, and
commenced a march into Silesia to effect a junction with General
Daun. Frederick followed, and, by a very rapid march, took possession
of Sagan, on the Bober, where he was in direct communication with
Henry. On the 24th of September the king wrote to his younger brother
Ferdinand, in Berlin:

“You may well suppose that, in the present posture of affairs, I
am not without cares, inquietudes, and anxieties. It is the most
frightful crisis I have had in my life. This is the moment for
dying, unless one conquer. Daun and my brother Henry are marching
side by side. It is possible enough all these armies may assemble
hereabouts, and that a general battle may decide our fortune and
the peace. Take care of your health, dear brother.

F.”

There was much manœuvring, in which Frederick displayed his usual
skill, quite circumventing his foes. Daily he became less despairing.
On the 25th of October he wrote to Fouquet:

“With twenty-one thousand your beaten and maltreated servant has
hindered an army of fifty thousand from attacking him, and has
compelled them to retire to Neusatz.”

On the 10th of October Frederick was attacked by the gout, and
for three weeks was confined to his room. This extraordinary man,
struggling, as it were, in the jaws of destruction, beguiled the weary
hours of sickness and pain by writing a treatise upon _Charles XII. and
his Military Character_. On the 24th of October, the Russian commander,
quarreling with General Daun, set out, with his whole force, for home.
On the 1st of November the king was carried in a litter to Glogau.
Cold weather having now set in, General Daun commenced a march for
Bohemia, to seek winter quarters nearer his supplies. Frederick, his
health being restored, rejoined his troops under Henry, which were near
Dresden. The withdrawal of both the Russians and Austrians from Silesia
greatly elated him. On the 15th of November he wrote to D’Argens from
Maxen, a village a little south of Dresden:

“Yesterday I joined the army, and Daun decamped. I have followed
him thus far, and will continue it to the frontiers of Bohemia. Our
measures are so taken that he will not get out of Saxony without
considerable loss.”

General Finck was stationed at Maxen, with about fifteen thousand men,
to cut the communications of Daun with Bohemia. Frederick, in his
undue elation, was quite sure of inflicting terrible blows upon Daun.
He issued imperative commands to General Finck to fight the allies
regardless of their numbers. The Prussian general did not dare to
disobey this command and withdraw from his commanding position, even
when he saw himself being surrounded with such superior forces as would
almost certainly crush him.

In a very triumphant mood, the king, on the 19th of November, wrote a
boastful and irreverent “Ode to Fortune,” in that easy rhyme which he
called poetry. The substance of this ode, translated into prose, was as
follows:

“I am a poor heretic. I have never been blessed by the holy father.
I never attend church. I worship neither God nor the devil. Often
have those shaven scoundrels, the priests, declared that I had become
extinct.

“But behold the caprice of Fortune. After a hundred preferences of
my rivals, she smiles upon me, and packs off the hero of the hat and
sword, whom the pope had blessed, and who had gone on pilgrimages. He
skulks out of Saxony, panting like a dog whom the cook has flogged out
of the kitchen.”

This ode, “an irrepressible extempore effusion,” as he termed it, the
royal poet forwarded to D’Argens. The day but one after writing this,
General Daun, having effectually surrounded General Finck with nearly
fifty thousand men of the allied troops - nearly four to one - after
a severe conflict, compelled the surrender of his whole army. The
following plan of the battle of Maxen will show how completely Finck
was encircled. General Daun claimed that he marched back into Dresden,
as prisoners of war, eight generals, five hundred and twenty-nine
officers, and fifteen thousand privates, with all their equipments and
appurtenances.[141] The next day, the 22d, Frederick wrote to D’Argens:

“I am so stupefied with the misfortune which has befallen General
Finck that I can not recover from my astonishment. It deranges all my
measures. It cuts me to the quick. Ill luck, which persecutes my old
age, has followed me from Kunersdorf to Saxony. I will still strive
what I can. The little ode I sent you, addressed to _Fortune_, was
written too soon. One should not shout victory until the battle is
over. I am so crushed by these reverses and disasters that I wish a
thousand times I were dead.

[Illustration: BATTLE OF MAXEN, NOVEMBER 20, 1759.

_a a. Prussian Army. b. Prussian Detachment, under Wunsch.
c c. Austrian Attack, under Daun. d d. Attack of Brentano and
Sincere. e e e. Reich’s Army._]

“From day to day I grow more weary of dwelling in a body worn out
and condemned to suffer. I am writing to you in the first moment of
my grief. Astonishment, sorrow, indignation, and scorn, all blended
together, lacerate my soul. Let us get to the end, then, of this



Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 40 of 52)