History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Under the Heel of Napoleon

Germany had now reached the very depths of degradation. There seemed to be no unity, no pride of nation, no love of country left. Half the Empire cringed to Napoleon and fawned upon him, the other half, beaten but unsubdued, hated him with a sullen hatred. But already the turning-point had come.

At the head of affairs in Prussia there was now a great statesman and patriot named Baron Stein. He loved his country, and he believed that it was through Prussia that Germany would once more become free, and great among the nations.

But to do this he saw that the Prussians themselves must be roused out of their sloth and degradation. So he did away with serfs; towns were given municipal rights; posts in the army and in the government, which had been kept for nobles only, were thrown open to every one. And with such deeds Stein seemed to awaken the whole people to a new love of their country, and new desire of freedom. He helped to form a secret society called the Tugendbund, or League of Virtue, the aim of which was to drive the French out of the country.

But very soon Napoleon began to hate Stein for the good work he was doing for Prussia. He gave orders to have him arrested, and in order to escape his great enemy Stein gave up his office and fled to Russia.

But there was another patriot left named Scharnhorst. He was not a noble like Stein, but a peasant's son. He was a soldier, and he did in the army just as much good work as Stein had done in the government.

Napoleon had commanded that Prussia should only keep a very small army. But Scharnhorst determined that every Prussian fit to carry arms should be a soldier. So he kept continually changing his men. He took fresh recruits and drilled them into good soldiers. Then he sent them home and drilled another lot of fresh recruits in their place. In this way, although the army seemed to be as small as Napoleon had commanded, the country was really swarming with well-drilled soldiers.

Scharnhorst carried out many reforms in the army also. So very soon Prussia had really a splendid army, not merely splendid to look at, as had been the case at the beginning of the wars with Napoleon.

Besides Stein and Scharnhorst there were other great men who helped the work forward, and quietly the whole people got ready for the great struggle they knew must come. But some years passed before the right time came. At length, however, it did come.

In 1812 Napoleon invaded Russia. Across the Nieman he marched with his grand army 600,000 strong, full of pride, sure of victory. Six months later a ragged hungry rabble of scarce 20,000 men staggered homeward.

Napoleon had been defeated, his army shattered, and his friend the Czar turned into his bitterest enemy. Now or never was the moment to strike a blow for freedom, and Prussia struck that blow.

The King hesitated at first, but the young men rushed to join the army. One day as the King stood at his castle window in Breslau and watched the long procession of volunteers march past, tears filled his eyes. He forgot the shame and defeat of former days, all his doubts faded away. War was declared.

The whole country was filled with wild enthusiasm. The universities were emptied, field and workshop were forsaken, students and workers alike thronging to the barracks. Even poets joined the ranks, while the whole country sang the songs they made.

To get money for the cause women sold everything of value they possessed, their hair, their jewels, even their wedding-rings. In return for them they received an iron ring engraven with the words "I gave gold for iron, 1813." These were looked upon in after years as their greatest treasures. For they were a sign that those who possessed them had helped to free their country from a hated yoke. For a man to remain at home, for a woman to have given nothing, became a disgrace.

"Brandenburg, Prussia, Silesia, Pomerania," wrote King Frederick William, "you know what you have had to suffer the last seven years; you know what will be your sad fate if the war which we now begin does not end honourably for us. Think of past days, think of the great Frederick, think of the glorious example of our mighty ally Russia, think of Spain, of Portugal. . . . It is a last terrible struggle that is now before us, for we fight for our very existence, for our freedom and well-being. God and our own steadfastness will win the victory, for our cause is just. With victory we win a safe and glorious peace, and the return of happier days."

Russia joined with Prussia against Napoleon. Once more the Czar and King met and renewed their old friendship. But King Frederick William was alone, for his beautiful Queen, who had loved Prussia so much, had died. She had died worn out by sorrow for her country. But even though she was dead her work lived after her. It was for love of their noble Queen, and with a desire to avenge her death, that many of the people took up arms.

But now, in spite of their courage and the love of country which now filled them the Prussians did not begin to win at once. Twice they were defeated, at Lützen, where two hundred years before Gustavus Adolphus had been killed, and again at Bautzen. But in both these battles Napoleon's army far outnumbered that of the allies, and although they were defeated, the Prussians did not lose heart.

At length fortune changed, Austria too joined the allies, and at the battle of Leipzig Napoleon was utterly defeated. It was a three days' battle, on October 16 it began; on the 19th Napoleon and his army were fleeing from the field. The victory was greatly due to the rough old soldier Blücher. And the victors were not slow to acknowledge it. "Behold the liberator of your country," said the Czar, leading him to the King after the battle.

Blücher was a rough old soldier, but his men adored him, and they called him Marshal Forwards. He got this name at the battle of the Katzbach. The enemy were crossing the river, but Blücher held his men back until a good many of the enemy had landed. Then he cried out, "Now my men, I have enough of them—forwards." Ever after that he was known as Marshal Forwards.

In less than a month the French were now almost entirely driven out of Germany, and Napoleon's power over Europe was at an end. Italy, Holland, Switzerland, threw off his yoke, the Confederation of the Rhine was broken up. The Kingdom of Westphalia vanished.

But still Napoleon would not own defeat, and the allies marched into France. Napoleon's grand army was shattered. It was filled now with raw recruits, and untrained boys. Still he kept the foe in check. But even his great genius was of no avail against the overwhelming force of the allies. And on March 29 they reached Paris. France was exhausted, the people worn out with long warfare, and next day Paris yielded.

Then the King of Prussia, who had been humbled and insulted in his own country, rode in triumph into his into his enemy's capital.

Two months later the first Peace of Paris was signed. By this treaty all the land taken from Germany since 1792 was given back, Napoleon was banished to Elba, and Louis XVIII set upon the throne of France.