Frederick the Great - George Upton

The First Battle of the War

What a glorious period of peace Germany enjoyed after the furious storms of war had devastated its flourishing provinces and brought ruin and death into so many homes! Prussia at this time had to stand the brunt of the storm, and had it not been for the indomitable spirit and great military skill of Frederick the Great, nothing could have saved the young kingdom from being forced back within the limits of its original territory. It was not the fault of its enemies that the effort failed. They left nothing undone to humiliate and subdue Prussia.

Maria Theresa was never reconciled to the loss of Silesia, which had been taken from her by Frederick in the preceding war with Austria. They said that she shed tears whenever she saw a Silesian. Cherishing such a strong attachment, it is not remarkable that the high-spirited Empress busied herself with schemes for the recovery of her lost province. With this purpose in view, she made secret treaties with Russia, France, and Sweden, and was also assured of the help of Saxony and many of the German imperial princes. Thus united, the plan was made to seize Prussia and reduce it to its old limits of the Mark of Brandenburg, at the same time allotting Silesia to Austria, Westphalia to France, the bishopric of Magdeburg to Saxony, Pomerania to Sweden, and Prussia to Russia; but Frederick's sharp eyes discovered the designs of his enemies at an early stage in the game. Two traitors assisted him. Wenzel, a secretary in Dresden, and Weingarten, an attaché  of the Austrian embassy in Berlin, were paid for warning him of the impending danger.

Frederick quietly and speedily formed his counter-plans. He strengthened his army, concluded a subsidy agreement with England—which at that time was under the Hanoverian dynasty—and also secured promise of help from some of the German princes, particularly the dukes of Brunswick and Gotha and the Elector of Hesse-Cassel. With this comparatively small array he boldly prepared to oppose his powerful enemies. His motto was "Nothing venture, nothing have." He quietly placed his army upon a war footing, concentrated it at a given point, and in the autumn of 1756 gave the order to march into Saxony.

Frederick's army invaded that beautiful and fruitful country in three divisions, while Field-Marshal Schwerin, with a fourth, occupied Bohemia. In a few days its most important cities were in his possession. The invasion was effected with such startling quickness that the Elector and his family barely escaped being taken prisoners, but they were all treated with proper respect. The unexpected occupation caused great alarm all over Saxony, and the news of it created consternation at the Austrian court. Frederick was charged with bad faith and disturbance of the country's peace. The Emperor went so far as to characterize the bold intruders as outlaws. Frederick, however, was not disturbed. All that he cared for was the rupture of the alliance between the Elector and Austria. Not succeeding in this at the outset, he treated that province as an enemy.

The Saxon army, in the meantime, had camped at Pirna, so as to be in easy communication with the Austrian forces, but Frederick shut them in so closely that they were soon in desperate straits. The Elector despatched messenger after messenger to Maria Theresa, praying for help. Alarmed at last by the bold operations of the King, she granted his requests and sent Field-Marshal Browne with seventy thousand men to the relief of Saxony, not doubting that he would crush Frederick at the first blow. Frederick, however, did not wait for the arrival of his enemy, but, dividing his force, boldly went out to meet him with about twenty-four thousand men, leaving the other half to watch the Saxons at Pirna.

The two armies met at Lobositz on the Elbe, October 1, 1756. The battle raged fiercely for six hours with little prospect of success for the Prussians, considering the superior strength of the enemy. Indeed, defeat at one time seemed inevitable, for their ammunition was exhausted. The brave Duke of Bevern, however, saved the army from its first defeat. When told that they were out of powder and shot, he coolly exclaimed: "Comrades, be of good courage. Charge with fixed bayonets!" His gallant troops obeyed, and hurled themselves upon the Austrians with such impetuosity that they were soon masters of the field. This was the first victory in the Seven Years' War. Frederick was delighted, and on that same day wrote to Field-Marshal Schwerin:

"I hardly need say anything to you about the troops. You know them. But never since I have had the honor to command them, cavalry as well as infantry, have they fought more bravely. It is easy to see by these brilliant achievements what they will do hereafter."

The news of the victory fell like a thunderbolt in the ranks of the Prussian King's enemies. The Saxon troops at Pirna, fourteen thousand strong, forced by bitter necessity and half starved, laid down their arms. The officers were released, after pledging themselves not to engage again in hostilities against Prussia. The common soldiers were placed at once in the Prussian army; but they were of no service, as they deserted at the earliest opportunity. The victory was followed by important results. It was the majestic prelude to the later battles of the Seven Years' War.