페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

BATTLE OF KUNERSDORF. 107

struse; the true sequences of which who shall unravel? Prince Karl beats retreat, about eight in the morning; is through Hohenfriedbcrg about ten: back into the mountains; a thoroughly well-beaten man. Toward Bolkenhayn, the Saxons and he; their heavy artillery and baggage had been left safe there. Not much pursued, and gradually rearranging himself; with thoughts—no want of thoughts! Came pouring down, triumphantly invasive, yesterday; returns on these terms, in about fifteen hours. Not marching with displayed banners and field-music this time; this is a far other march. The mouse-trap had been left open, and we rashly went in!—Prince Karl's loss, including that of the Saxons, is 9000 dead and wounded, 7000 prisoners, 66 cannon, 73 flags and standards; the Prussian is about 5000 dead and wounded.

Having seen Frederick victorious, let us now have a look at him in defeat. The battle of Kunersdorf, one of the most fiercely-contested in the history of war, was fought between the Prussians and the Russians, in August, 1759, on a scries of hills, or big sandy knolls, on the right bank of the Oder. The battle, up to the time at which we strike into Carlyle's description, had been magnificently successful on the side of Frederick.

ThE Rout Of Kunersdorf.

I should judge it must be three of the afternoon. The day is windless, blazing; one of the hottest August days; and "nobody, for twelve hours past, could command a drink of water:" very fresh the poor Prussians cannot be! They have done two bouts of excellent fighting; tumbled the Russians well back, stormed many batteries, and taken in all 180 cannon. At this stage, it appears, Finck and many generals were of opinion that, in the present circumstances, with troops so tired, and the enemy nearly certain to draw off, if permitted, here had been enough for one day, and that there ought to be pause till to-morrow. Friedrich knew well the need of rest; but Friedrich, impatient of things half-done, especially of Russians halfbeaten, would not listen to this proposal, which was reckoned upon him as a grave and tragic fault, all the rest of his life; though favorable judges, who were on the ground, are willing to prove that pausing here was not feasible or reasonable. Friedrich considers with himself, "Our left wing has hardly yet been in fire !"—calls out the entire left wing, foot and horse: these are to emerge from their meshwork of Lakes about Kunersdorf, and bear a hand along with us on the Russian front here—especially to sweep away that racing battery they have on the Big Spitzberg, and make us clear of it. The Big Spitzberg lies to south and ahead of the Russian right as now ranked; fatally covers their right flank, and half ruins the attack in front.

The left-wing infantry thread their lake-labvrinth, the soonest possible; have to rank again on the hither side, under a tearing fire from that Spitzberg; can then, at last, and do, storm onward, upward; but cannot, with their best efforts, take the Spitzberg; and have to fall back under its floods of tearing case-shot, and retire out of range. To Friedrich's blank disappointment: "Try it you, then, Seidlitz; you saved us at Zorndorf!" Seidlitz, though it is an impossible problem to storm batteries with horse, does charge in for the Russian flank, in spite of its covering battery; but the torrents of grape-shot are insufferable; the Seidlitz people, torn in gaps, recoil, whirl round, and do not rank again till beyond the Lakes of Kunersdorf. Seidlitz himself has got wounded, and has had to be carried away.

And, in brief, from this point onward, all goes aback with the Prussians more and more. Repeated attempts on that Spitzberg battery prove vain; to advance without it is impossible. Friedrich's exertions arc passionate, almost desperate; rallving, animating, new-ordering; everywhere in the hottest of the fire. "Thrice he personally led on the main attack." He has had two horses shot down under him; mounting a third, this, too, gets a bullet in an artery of the neck, and is about falling, wheu two adjutants save the King. In his waistcoat pocket some small gold case (etui) has got smitten flat by a bullet, which would otherwise have ended matters. The people about him remonstrate on such exposure of a life beyond value; he answers, curtly, " We must all of us try every method here, to win the battle; I, like every other, must stand to my duty here."

Friedrich's wearied battalions fight desperatelv, but cannot prevail further; and in spite of Friedrich's vehement rallvings and urgings, gradually lose ground. The Loudon grenadiers, and masses of fresh Russians, are not to be broken, but advance and advance. Fancy the panting deathlabors, and spasmodic toilings and baftiings, of these poor Prussians and their king! Nothing now succeeding; the death-agony now come; all hearts growing hopeless; only one heart still seeing hope. Back, slowly back, go the Prussians generally, nothing now succeeds with them. Back to the Kuhgrund again; fairly over the steep brow there; the Russians scrrying their ranks atop, rearranging their many guns. There, once more, rose frightful struggle; desperate attempt by the foredonc Prussians to retake that height. "Lasted fifteen minutes, line to line, not fifty yards FREDERICK IN DEFEAT.

169

asunder;" such musketry—our last cartridges withal. Ardent Prussian parties trying to storm up; few ever getting to the top, none ever standing there alive one minute. This was the death-agony of the battle. Loudon, waiting behind the Spitzberg, dashes forward now, toward the Kuhgrund and our left flank. At sight of which a universal feeling shivers through the Prussian heart. "Hope ended, then !"—and their solid ranks rustle everywhere; and melt into one wild deluge, ebbing from the place as fast as it can.

It is toward six o'clock: the sweltering sun is now fallen low and veiled; gray evening sinking over these wastes. ulPy a-t-il done pas un bou

tjre de boulct gut puisne m'atteindre (is there then not one b of a ball

that can reach me, then) ?" exclaimed Friedrich, in his despair. Such a day he had never thought to see. The pillar of the State, the Prussian army itself, gone to chaos in this manner. Friedrich still passionately struggles, exhorts, commands, entreats, even with tears, " Children, don't forsake me in this pinch !" but all ears are deaf. Friedrich was among the last to leave the ground.

It is not in the heart of man to deny some sympathy to a king so brave and resolute as Frederick showed himself at Kunersdorf. He might not have left the field at all, had not his adjutants seized his bridle and galloped off with him. He felt that all was lost. His determination seems to have been to commit suicide, and he actually wrote and sent away, the same night, an order respecting the command of the army and the succession to the throne. But, before writing this letter, he found opportunity to display a tenderness for which my readers may hardly have given him credit.

Frederick After The Battle. Friedrich found at (Fischer nothing but huts full of poor, wounded men, and their miseries and surgeries; he took shelter himself in a hut " which had been plundered by Cossacks," but which had fewer wounded than others, and could be furnished with some bundles of dry straw. Kriele has a pretty aneedote, with names and particulars, of two poor lieutenants who were lying on the floor as he entered this hut. They had lain there for many hours; the surgeons thinking them desperate, which Friedrich did not. "Alas, children, you are badly wounded, then?" ",/«, your Majesty: but how goes the battle?" (Answer evasive on this point.) "Aro you bandaged, though * Have you been let blood?" "Xein, Euer Majfsliil, iein Tcufel will wis verbiaden (not a devil of them would bandage us)!" Upon which there is a surgeon instantly brought; reprimanded for neglect: "Desperate, say you? These are young fellows; feel that hand, and that; no fever there: nature in such cases does wonders!" Upon which the leech had to perform his function; and the poor young fellows were saved—and did new fighting, and got new wounds, and had pensions when the war ended. This appears to have been Friedrich's first work in that hut at CEtscher.

As he did not swallow poison or blow his brains out before the morning after the battle, and as the nucleus of an army soon gathered round him, the likelihood that he would take his own life passed speedily away. Had his enemies been as active as himself, he would certainly have been overpowered. He struggled on, however, amidst unparalleled difficulties, two years longer. The expedients to which he had recourse in order to find men and horses, and food to keep them alive, read like fables. The coin of the realm was debased wholesale. Prisoners were forced to take rank as soldiers of their captor. Agents were employed in the various German States to cajole or crimp recruits, and the wild adventurers who engaged in this business shrank from no extravagance of deception that could induce hair-brained lads to enter the service of the King of 1'russia. Idle students, apprentices who had made free with their masters' tills, sons who had quarrelled with their fathers, were told that they might be lieutenants or captains in the Prussian army. Their commissions were actually made out by the crimpers. 'When they presented themselves with these precious documents at some Prussian centre of recrniting operations, they were handed over to the drill-sergeant, cuffed and caned into soldiers, and in a short time sent to meet the enemy. It is said that sixty thousand men were thus brought into the Prussian ranks in the closing years of the war. Strange to say, the quality of Frederick's troops continued excellent. Stern discipline did not quench the enthusiasm of the soldiers ENGLAND AND FREDERICK.

171

for their unconquerable king, and the contagion of courage and endurance was caught even by the losels and scapegraces who entered the nets of the crimpers.

We may, I think, regard, on the whole, with satisfaction the attitude assumed by our Government and countrymen in relation to Frederick. The seizure of Silesia was seen to be criminal, and George II., with the Parliament and people of England at his back, lent a helping hand to the Empress-Queen. In drawing the sword to maintain the Pragmatic Sanction, England was right. At the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, the situation had changed. Frederick was no longer the aggressor. Austria and France, with other formidable allies, had united to snub and put down the upstart of Brandenburg. That Frederick had given both France and Austria good cause to detest and assail him will hardly be questioned by the candid reader of Frederick's life; but the instinct of the British nation decided that, whatever might be Frederick's faults, it was not fair to stamp him out; and the spectacle of a king with less than five millions of population, pitted against Powers commanding fourscore millions, appealed irresistibly to an Englishman's admiration for courage and fortitude. Accordingly, England, led by Pitt, took Frederick's side at the beginning of the Seven Years' War, and gave him most important; assistance, both in money and by drawing upon English troops the attack of France.

Frederick made no concession to his enemies at the end of the struggle, but he was surfeited with fighting, and engaged in no serious war during the twenty years that still remained of his life.

« 이전계속 »