Frederick the Great - George Upton

The Battle of Liegnitz

The deplorable result of these operations weighed heavily upon the King and never before did he inaugurate a campaign in a more despondent mood than that of 1760. It affected all his movements and all his actions and at last it seemed as if his lucky star would never shine again. In Silesia, the Austrian General Laudon, with a force three times greater, attacked General Fouque, and his eight thousand men. Fouque defended himself with the courage of a lion, and his soldiers fought none the less bravely, but he had the misfortune to be thrown from his horse in such a way that the animal fell upon him and undoubtedly would have crushed him to death but for the opportune arrival of his faithful groom. Only such troopers as had swift enough horses escaped from the scene of slaughter.

Frederick meanwhile was busy with his plans for retaking Dresden. He closely invested that city, but whatever moves he made were immediately thwarted by the Austrian general, who made a resolute defence of the post entrusted to him. The failure of his plans only made the King still more despondent. His best friends and most experienced generals suffered greatly from his ill humor, for he was often not only severe, but grossly unjust. He called the soldiers of one regiment cowards, and cut off the decorations from their uniforms beside taking away their side-arms and badges of honor. One blow after another struck the King. Hardly had he learned of the destruction of Fouque's corps when the unhappy news came that General Laudon had taken the important fortress of Glatz. Everyone now expected another wrathful outbreak from the King, but on the contrary he remarked:

"Be it so! But they will have to give it back when peace is made. We must now go to Silesia lest we lose everything."

His decision was executed almost as soon as it was announced. While on the way, Daun was near him on one side and the Austrian General Lacy on the other. The three armies were so close together that they might easily have been mistaken for one. The light troops had frequent skirmishes, and hardly a day passed without encounters. Thus they fought their way along to Liegnitz. Further advance of the King was now impossible, for Laudon appeared in front of him. He was completely surrounded by the Austrian armies. The enemy's leaders were jubilant over the prospect of capturing the King and his entire army.

"The net is made in which we will capture the whole Prussian army," they said, contemptuously. "We have only to cast it."

The King was informed of their boast and laughingly replied: "That may be so, but I think I can make a hole in that net which they can't sew up again."

These were prophetic words.

The King's army now was so closely hemmed in by the Austrians that a mouse could not have slipped through, and the transportation of subsistence was impossible. Instead of commissary bread, zwiebach was distributed among the soldiers. The King often diverted himself toward evening by walking or riding among the squadrons of the Garde du Corps  and talking with the men in a joking way, so as to keep them in good spirits and arouse hope for better times. Upon one such occasion he happened upon an under-officer who had broken his zwiebach and mixed it with a flask of red wine in the camp kettle, hanging over the fire.

"What kind of red soup is that you have there?" asked the King.

"Your Majesty," was the reply, "that soup cost me seven thalers in cash."

"Hoho hoho!" said the King, "what is it?"

"It is red wine and zwiebach. I spent my last ducat that I might have a little comfort once more."

"Well, if it has cost that much, I would like to know how it tastes."

Certainly, Your Majesty, but I have only a tin spoon."

"That makes no difference."

Thereupon the King took a spoonful of the soup and said: "This is really very good, but it is too expensive. But I thank you just the same, and you must come soon and eat with me."

The King shortly afterward ordered the officer to come to his headquarters, and there he appeased his hunger with such food as Frederick ate. Beside this, the King gave him a handsome sum in gold. In such ways as these he managed to win the love and respect of his soldiers.

To the astonishment of all, Daun decided upon a battle, hoping thus to ensure the destruction of the Prussian army. The decisive blow was to be struck August i S, and to make it all the more decisive he arranged for an attack at daybreak and a repetition of the slaughter at Hochkirch. This time, however, Frederick was fortunate enough to hear of the plan and he made a counter-plan at once. The Prussian army left its camp in absolute silence during the night and occupied the neighboring heights; and to make the Austrians believe it was resting quietly in its old position, peasants were employed to keep the campfires burning brightly.

Noiselessly Frederick arranged his army in fighting order. Silently the regiments stood in rank and listened for the signal to attack. There was something weird in the spectacle. The infantry stood with weapons ready for attack, and bright sabres flashed in the stout fists of the troopers ready at any instant to strike. Far down in the east day was dawning, and the silent host in the gray dusk looked like a troop of spectres.



To enjoy a moment's rest, Generals Seydlitz and Zieten threw themselves down by a campfire and slept; but Frederick, sitting upon a drumhead, considered the plans of the coming battle. At last he too was overcome by fatigue, and lying by the side of his generals was soon asleep. Suddenly a major rushed up and loudly asked, "Where is the King?"

The latter, somewhat startled, arose at once and answered, "What is the matter?"

"The enemy is not four hundred yards away," was his reply.

Officers and men were at once on the alert. Two minutes sufficed to form the regiments in order. Words of command were heard on all sides. The cavalry made ready for the onset. The thunder of artillery resounded over hill and valley, and in less than ten minutes the battle was raging. Frederick's invincible spirit worked wonders. General Laudon had not expected such a reception and was utterly astonished to find a powerful force confronting him when he expected to surprise the Prussians in their camp. But in this emergency everything depended upon energy and courage. He made a brave assault, but the Prussians made a braver resistance. They fought like lions, and if it had been lighter the enemy would have been mercilessly slaughtered. When the sun rose it illuminated the field covered with bodies and broken weapons. The four hours' sanguinary conflict was decided. The Prussians won a complete victory, and the Austrians lost ten thousand men, beside twenty-three standards and eighty-two cannon. Thus ended the battle of Liegnitz, August 15, 1760.