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

History of Frederick the Second online

. (page 42 of 52)
Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 42 of 52)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

marquis, that I can not command good fortune. I am obliged to
leave too much to chance, as I have not the means to render my
plans more certain.

“I have the labors of Hercules to perform, at an age, too, when
my strength is leaving me, when my infirmities increase, and, to
speak the truth, when hope, the only consolation of the unhappy,
begins to desert me. You are not sufficiently acquainted with the
posture of affairs to know the dangers which threaten the state.
I know them, but conceal them. I keep all my fears to myself,
and communicate to the public only my hopes and the trifle of
good news I may now and then have. If the blow I now meditate
succeeds, then, my dear marquis, will be the time to express
our joy. But, till then, do not let us flatter ourselves, lest
unexpected bad news deject us too much.

“I live here the life of a literary monk. I have much to think
of about my affairs. The rest of my time I give to literature,
which is my consolation. I know not if I shall survive this war.
Should it so happen, I am resolved to pass the rest of my days in
retirement, in the bosom of philosophy and friendship.

“As soon as the roads are surer I hope you will write more
frequently. I do not know where we shall have our winter
quarters. Our houses at Breslau have been destroyed in the late
bombardment. Our enemies envy us every thing, even the air we
breathe. They must, however, leave us some place. If it be a safe
one, I shall be delighted to receive you there.

“Here is business which I must attend to. I was in a writing
vein, but I believe it is better to conclude, lest I should tire
you and neglect my own duties. Adieu, my dear marquis. I embrace




Incessant Marches and Battles. - Letter from Frederick to D’Argens. -
Letter to his Brother Henry. - Berlin summoned to Surrender. -
Sacking of the City. - Letter to D’Argens. - Desperate Resolves of
Frederick. - The Resort of Suicide. - Remarkable Address of Frederick
to his Generals. - Bloody Battle of Torgau. - Dismal Night-scene. -
Familiarity of the King with the Soldiers. - Winter Quarters at
Freiberg. - Singular Letter to the Countess of Camas. - Death of the
Princess Amelia. - Anecdotes of the King. - His domestic Habits. -
His unscrupulous Measures to obtain Men and Money. - Letter of
Charlotte of Mecklenburg.

Sieges, skirmishes, battles innumerable ensued. The Russians and the
Austrians, in superior numbers and with able leaders, were unwearied in
their endeavors to annihilate their formidable foe. The conflict was
somewhat analogous to that which takes place between the lion at bay
in the jungle and a pack of dogs. The details could scarcely be made
intelligible to the reader, and would certainly prove tedious.[153]

Frederick so concentrated his forces as, ere long, to have about fifty
thousand troops with him at Breslau. Weary weeks of marchings and
fightings, blood and woe, passed on. Painful blows were struck upon
both sides, but nothing decisive was accomplished. In the midst of
these harassments, perils, and toils, the king wrote to D’Argens, on
the 18th of September, from Reisendorf:

“I will not sing _jeremiades_ to you, nor speak of my fears or
anxieties; but I can assure you that they are great. The crisis I am in
changes in appearance, but nothing decisive happens. I am consumed by a
slow fire; I am like a living body losing limb after limb. May Heaven
assist us, for we have much need of it.

“You speak of my personal safety. You ought to know, as I do, that it
is not necessary for me to live. But while I do live I must fight for
my country, and save it if it be possible. In many little things I
have had luck; I think of taking for my motto, _Maximus in minimis, et
minimus in maximis_.[154]

“It is impossible for you to imagine the horrible fatigues which we
undergo. This campaign is worse than any of the others. I sometimes
know not which way to turn. But why weary you with these details of
my toils and miseries? My spirits have forsaken me. All my gayety is
buried with those dear and noble ones to whom my heart was bound. The
end of my life is melancholy and sad; but do not, therefore, my dear
marquis, forget your old friend.”[155]

To his brother Henry he wrote, “I have had a bad time of it, my dear
brother; our means are so eaten away; far too short for opposing the
prodigious number of our enemies set against us. If we must fall, let
us date our destruction from the infamous day of Maxen. My health is
a little better, but I have still _hémorroïdes aveugles_. That were
nothing, however, were it not for the disquietudes I feel. For these
three days I have had so terrible a cramp in continuance that I thought
it would choke me. It is now a little gone. No wonder that the chagrins
and continual disquietudes I live in should undermine, and at length
overturn, the most robust constitution.”

Early in October the allies planned an expedition for the capture
of Berlin. The city had no defenses but weak palisades, which were
garrisoned by but twelve hundred men. General Czernichef led a column
of twenty thousand Russians, General Lacy another of fifteen thousand
Austrians, and General Soltikof a third column of twenty thousand more.

On the 3d of October the vanguard of this army, three thousand strong,
was seen in the distance from the steeples of Berlin. The queen and
royal family fled with the archives to Magdeburg. The city was summoned
to an immediate surrender, and to pay a ransom of about four million
dollars to rescue it from the flames. The summons was rejected. General
Tottleben, in command of the advance, erected his batteries, and at
five o’clock in the afternoon commenced his bombardment with red-hot
balls. In the night a re-enforcement of five thousand Prussians, under
Prince Eugene of Würtemberg, who had marched forty miles that day,
entered the city, guided by the blaze of the bombardment, to strengthen
the garrison. Tottleben retired to await the allied troops, which were
rapidly on the march. In the mean time, on the 8th, General Hülsen
arrived with nine thousand Prussian troops, increasing the garrison in
Berlin to fifteen thousand. Frederick was also on the march, to rescue
his capital, with all the troops he could muster. But the Russians had
now arrived to the number of thirty-five thousand. The defenses were so
weak that they could easily take or destroy the place.

The garrison retired to avoid capture. Berlin surrendered on the
morning of October 9th. For three days the enemy held the city. The
semi-barbaric soldiers committed fearful outrages. The soldiers
sacked the king’s palaces at Potsdam and Charlottenburg, smashing
furniture, doors, windows, mirrors, statuary, cutting the pictures, and
maltreating the inmates.

On the 11th it was announced that Frederick, with nearly the whole
Prussian army, was within five days’ march of Berlin. The allies held
him in such dread, when he had any thing like an equality of numbers
with them, that they fled from him at the rate of thirty miles a day.
But terrible were the ravages which they inflicted on the Prussian
people during this retreat.

The Russians marched to Poland. The Austrians returned to Saxony. As
soon as Frederick heard of their retreat, instead of continuing his
march to Berlin, he also turned his columns southward. On the 27th of
October he crossed the Elbe, about sixty miles above Dresden, and found
himself in the vicinity of General Daun, whose army outnumbered that
of Frederick two to one. The situation of Frederick was extremely
critical. Under these circumstances, he wrote to D’Argens on the 28th:

[Illustration: SACKING THE PALACE.]

“You, as a follower of Epicurus, put a value upon life. As for me, I
regard death from the Stoic point of view. Never shall I see the moment
which will oblige me to make a disadvantageous peace. No persuasion,
no eloquence, shall ever induce me to sign my own dishonor. Either I
will bury myself under the ruins of my country, or, if that consolation
appears too great to the _Destiny_ which persecutes me, I shall know
how to put an end to my misfortunes when it is no longer possible to
bear them. I have acted, and continue to act, in pursuance of this
conviction, and according to the dictates of honor, which have always
directed my steps. My conduct shall continue, at all times, to be
conformable to these principles.

“After having sacrificed my youth to my father, and my maturer age to
my country, I think that I have acquired the right to dispose of my
old age as I please. I have told you, and I repeat it, my hand shall
never sign a disgraceful peace. I shall continue this campaign with the
resolution to dare all, and to try the most desperate things, either to
succeed or to find a glorious end.

“Indeed, how many reasons has one at fifty years of age to despise
life! The prospect which remains to me is an old age of infirmity
and pain, with disappointments, regrets, ignominies, and outrages to
endure. In truth, if you really consider my situation, you ought to
blame my intentions less than you do. I have lost all my friends. I am
unfortunate in all the ways in which it is possible to be so. I have
nothing to hope for. I see my enemies treat me with derision, while
their insolence prepares to trample me under foot. Alas!

“‘Quand on a tout perdu, quand on n’a plus d’espoir,
La vie est un opprobre, et la mort un devoir.’[156]

“I have nothing to add to this. I will only inform your curiosity that
we passed the Elbe the day before yesterday; that to-morrow we march
toward Leipsic, where I hope to be on the 31st, where I hope we shall
have a battle, and whence you shall receive news of us as it occurs.”

It is not strange that Frederick, being destitute of religious
principle, should have ever contemplated suicide as his last resort. On
the 2d of November the king came in sight of the encampment of General
Daun at Torgau, on the Elbe, some score of leagues north of Dresden.
The king was at the head of forty-four thousand troops. Marshal Daun
had eighty thousand, strongly intrenched upon heights west of the city,
in the midst of a labyrinth of ponds, hills, ravines, and forests. We
shall not attempt to enter into a detail of the battle. The following
plan of the battle will give the military reader an idea of the
disposal of the forces.

The position of the Austrians on the heights of Siptitz, an eminence
which rose two hundred feet above the bed of the river, seemed
impregnable. Sixty-five thousand Austrians stood upon those heights,
protected by earth-works and a formidable abatis. They had four hundred
guns in battery, a larger number than had ever before been brought upon
a battle-field. To attack then and there was an act of desperation. On
the evening of the 2d the king assembled his generals and said to them,

“I have called you together, not to ask your advice, but to inform you
that to-morrow I shall attack Marshal Daun. I am aware that he occupies
a strong position, but it is one from which he can not escape. If I
beat him, all his army must be taken prisoners or drowned in the Elbe.
If we are beaten, we must all perish. This war is become tedious. You
must all find it so. We will, if we can, finish it to-morrow. General
Ziethen, I confide to you the right wing of the army. Your object
must be, in marching straight to Torgau, to cut off the retreat of
the Austrians when I shall have beaten them, and driven them from the
heights of Siptitz.”

[Illustration: BATTLE OF TORGAU, NOVEMBER 3, 1760.

_a a. Prussian Camp at Schilda. b b b. Austrian Army.
c c c. Rear-guard, under Lacy. d. Prussian Detachment, under
Ziethen. e. Frederick’s Division beginning the Attack.
f. Hülsen’s Infantry. g. Holstein’s Cavalry._]

At an early hour on the morning of the 3d Frederick broke up his camp
south of the foe, and, by a circuitous route of fourteen miles, came
down upon the Austrians from the north. General Ziethen marched in
almost a straight line for Torgau, to cut off the retreat. It was two
o’clock in the afternoon when Frederick, emerging from the forest,
ordered his men to charge. The assault was as impetuous and reckless
as mortal men could possibly make. Instantly four hundred pieces of
artillery opened fire upon them.

“Archenholtz describes it as a thing surpassable only by doomsday;
clangorous rage of noise risen to the infinite; the boughs of the trees
raining down upon you with horrid crash; the forest, with its echoes,
bellowing far and near, and reverberating in universal death-peal,
comparable to the trump of doom.”[157]

Frederick exclaimed, in astonishment, “What an infernal fire! Did you
ever hear such a cannonade before? I never did.”

The first assault was made by six thousand grenadiers upon the extreme
western wing of the Austrian army. The terrible conflict lasted nearly
an hour. The Prussians were driven back, leaving nine out of ten of the
assailing force dead or wounded behind them. The Austrians pursued, and
encountered slaughter equal to that which they had inflicted.

New columns were formed. Soon after three another charge was ordered.
It was sanguinary and unsuccessful as the first. Frederick himself was
wounded by a nearly spent case-shot which struck him on the breast.
The blow was severe and painful. Had the ball retained a little more
impetus it would have passed through his body. It is said that the
ball struck him to the earth, and that for some time he was void of
consciousness. Upon reviving, his first words to his adjutant, a son of
Old Dessauer, who was sorrowfully bending over him, were, “What are you
doing here? Go and stop the runaways.”

It was now half past four o’clock. The sun of the short November day
was rapidly sinking. Hasty preparations were made for another charge,
aided by a body of Prussian cavalry which had just reached the ground.
The gathering twilight was darkening hill and valley as the third
assault was made. It was somewhat successful. By this time the two
armies were quite intermingled. Marshal Daun was severely wounded, and
was taken into Torgau to have his wounds dressed. The hour of six had
now arrived. It was a damp, cloudy, dark night. The combatants were
guided mainly by the flash of the muskets and the guns. “The night was
so dark,” says Archenholtz, “that you could not see your hand before
you.” Still for two hours the battle raged.

Marshal Daun, as he retired with a shattered leg to have his wound
dressed, resigned the command to General Buccow. In a few moments his
arm was shot off, and General O’Donnell took the command. He ordered
a retreat. The Austrian army, at nine o’clock in the evening, in much
disorder, were crossing the Elbe by three bridges which had been thrown
across the stream in preparation for a possible disaster. The king,
disappointed in a victory which did not promise great results, passed
the night conversing with the soldiers at their watch-fires. He had
ever indulged them in addressing him with much familiarity, calling
him Fritz, which was a diminutive of Frederick, and expressive of
affection. “I suppose, Fritz,” said one of the soldiers, “after this,
you will give us good winter quarters.”

“By all the devils,” exclaimed the king, “I shall not till we have
taken Dresden. Then I will provide for you to your heart’s content.”

The king was not a man of refined sensibilities. Not unfrequently
his letters contained coarse and indelicate expressions. He was very
profane. Voltaire says of him, “He has a pleasing tone of voice even in
swearing, which is as familiar to him as to a grenadier.”

The battle of Torgau is to be numbered among the most bloody of the
Seven Years’ War. The Austrians lost twelve thousand in killed and
wounded, eight thousand prisoners, forty-five cannon, and twenty-nine
flags. The Prussian loss was also very heavy. There were fourteen
thousand killed or wounded, and four thousand taken prisoners.

The Austrians retired to Dresden for winter quarters. Frederick was
left in the field which he had won. Gradually he withdrew to his old
camping-ground at Freiberg, where his troops had been cantoned the
previous winter. On the 10th of November, 1760, he wrote from Meissen
to the Marquis D’Argens at Berlin:

“I drove the enemy to the gates of Dresden. They occupy their camp
of last year. All my skill is not enough to dislodge them. We have
saved our reputation by the day of Torgau. But do not imagine that our
enemies are so disheartened as to desire peace. I fear that the French
will preserve through the winter the advantages they have gained during
the campaign.

“In a word, I see all black, as if I were at the bottom of a tomb.
Have some compassion on the situation I am in. Conceive that I
disguise nothing from you, and yet that I do not detail to you all my
embarrassments, my apprehensions, and troubles. Adieu, my dear marquis.
Write to me sometimes. Do not forget a poor devil who curses ten times
a day his fatal existence, and could wish he already were in those
silent countries from which nobody returns with news.”

The next day, the 11th, Frederick wrote from Neustadt to the Countess
of Camas, who at Berlin was the grand mistress of the queen’s
household. The trifling tone of this letter, which was penned in the
midst of a struggle so awful, is quite characteristic of the writer:

“I am punctual in answering, and eager to satisfy you. You shall have
a breakfast-set, my good mamma; six coffee-cups, very pretty, well
diapered, and tricked out with all the little embellishments which
increase their value. On account of some pieces which they are adding
to the set, you will have to wait a few days. But I flatter myself this
delay will contribute to your satisfaction, and produce for you a toy
that will give you pleasure, and make you remember your old adorer.

“It is curious how old people’s habits agree. For four years past I
have given up suppers as incompatible with the trade I am obliged to
follow. On marching days my dinner consists of a cup of chocolate.

“We have been running about like fools, quite inflated with our
victory, to see if we could not chase the Austrians out of Dresden.
But they made mockery of us from the tops of their mountains. So I
have withdrawn, like a naughty little boy, to hide myself, out of
spite, in one of the most cursed villages of Saxony. We must now drive
these gentlemen of the imperial army out of Freiberg in order to get
something to eat and a place to sleep in.[158]

“This is, I swear to you, such a dog’s life [_chienne de vie_] as no
one but Don Quixote ever led before me. All this tumbling, toiling,
bother, and confusion have made me such an old fellow that you would
scarcely know me again. The hair on the right side of my head has grown
quite gray. My teeth break and fall out. My face is as full of wrinkles
as the furbelow of a petticoat. My back is bent like a fiddle-bow, and
my spirit is sad and downcast, like a monk of La Trappe.

“I forewarn you of this, that, if we should meet again in flesh
and bone, you might not feel yourself too violently shocked by my
appearance. There remains nothing to me unaltered but my heart, which,
as long as I breathe, will retain sentiments of esteem and tender
friendship for my good mamma. Adieu.”[159]

On Saturday, the 25th of October of this year, George II., King of
England, died. The poor old gentleman, who had been endowed with but
a very ordinary share of intelligence, was seventy-seven years of
age. On Monday he had presided at a review of troops in Hyde Park. On
Thursday he stood upon the portico of his rural palace in Kensington
to see his Guards march by for foreign service. Saturday morning he
rose at an early hour, took his cup of chocolate as usual, and, opening
his windows, said the morning was so fine he would take a walk in his
garden. It was then eight o’clock. His valet withdrew with the cup
and saucer. He had hardly shut the door when he heard a groan and a
fall. Hurrying back, he found the king upon the floor. Faintly the
death-stricken monarch exclaimed, “Call Amelia,” and instantly died.

“Poor deaf Amelia (Frederick’s old love, now grown old and deaf)
listened wildly for some faint sound from those lips now mute forever.
George II. was no more. His grandson, George III, was now king.”[160]

George II. had always hated his nephew Frederick. His only object in
sustaining the war was to protect his native electorate of Hanover
and to abase France.[161] The new sovereign, in his first speech to
Parliament, said:

“I rely upon your zeal and hearty concurrence to support the King of
Prussia and the rest of my allies, and to make ample provision for
carrying on the war, as the only means of bringing our enemies to
equitable terms of accommodation.”

It seems that in England there were two parties in reference to the
war. Sir Horace Walpole, in a letter under date of December 5th, 1760,
wrote to Sir Horace Mann, at Florence:

“I shall send you a curious pamphlet, the only work I almost ever
knew that changed the opinions of many. It is called ‘Considerations
on the present German War.’ The confirmation of the King of Prussia’s
victory near Torgau does not prevent the disciples of the pamphlet from
thinking that the best thing which could happen for us would be to have
that monarch’s head shot off.”[162]

Notwithstanding the opposition, Parliament voted to continue the
subsidy to Frederick of about three million four hundred thousand
dollars (£670,000). This sum was equal to twice or three times that
amount at the present day.

Frederick, having cantoned his troops at Freiberg and its vicinity, on
the 27th of November wrote again to the Countess of Camas:

“We have settled our winter quarters. I have yet a little round to
take, and afterward I shall seek for tranquillity at Leipsic, if it
be to be found there. But, indeed, for me tranquillity is only a
metaphysical word which has no reality.”

Frederick was so busy cantoning his troops that he did not take
possession of his head-quarters in Leipsic until the 8th of December.
He occupied the Apel House, No. 16 Neumarkt Street, the same which he
had occupied before the battle of Rossbach. The same mistress kept the
house as before. Upon seeing the king, the good woman exclaimed, in
astonishment, “How lean your majesty has grown!”

“Lean indeed I am,” the king replied. “And what wonder, with three
women[163] hanging on the throat of me all this while!”

Thus ended the fifth campaign of the Seven Years’ War. Though the king
had thus far averted the destruction which seemed every hour to be
impending, his strength and resources were so rapidly failing that it
seemed impossible that he could much longer continue the struggle.
Under these despairing circumstances, the king, with an indomitable
spirit, engaged vigorously in gathering his strength for a renewal of
the fight in the spring.

“In the midst of these preparations for a new campaign against a
veteran army of two hundred and eighty thousand enemies, Frederick yet
found sufficient leisure for peaceable occupations. He consecrated some
hours every day to reading, to music, and to the conversation of men of

D’Argens spent the winter with the king at Leipsic. He gives the
following incident: “One day I entered the king’s apartment, and found
him sitting on the floor with a platter of fried meat, from which he
was feeding his dogs. He had a little rod, with which he kept order
among them, and shoved the best bits to his favorites.”

The marquis looked for a moment upon the singular spectacle with
astonishment. Then raising his hands, he exclaimed,

“The five great powers of Europe, who have sworn alliance, and
conspired to ruin the Marquis of Brandenburg, how might they puzzle
their heads to guess what he is now doing! Scheming some dangerous
plan, think they, for the next campaign, collecting funds, studying
about magazines for man and horse; or is he deep in negotiations to
divide his enemies, and get new allies for himself? Not a bit of it. He
is sitting peaceably in his room feeding his dogs.”[165]

The king was quite unscrupulous in the measures to which he resorted
to recruit his army. Deserters, prisoners, peasants, were alike forced

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Frederick the Second → online text (page 42 of 52)