Frederick the Great - George Upton

Frederick at Leuthen and Lissa

The main army of the Austrians, eighty thousand strong, held a position in the vicinity of Leuthen, between Breslau and Neumarkt. When its commander, Prince Carl of Lothringen, heard that the King was near by with thirty-six thousand men, he remarked, "That must be the Berlin guard parade." Frederick did not wait long. Regardles of the disparity between the two forces, he determined to measure strength with the Austrians, cost what it might. Under a gloomy, gray December sky, the King one day summoned hisgenerals and thus addressed them:

"In violation of all the rules of the art of war, I propose to attack this army of Prince Carl though it is thrice as strong as ours. It is not a question of the numbers of the enemy nor of the strength of his position. I hope we shall overcome these odds by the valor of our troops, and by strictly carrying out my plans. I must risk this action or all will be lost. We must beat the enemy or all of us must perish before his batteries. So I think, so I shall act. Make my decision known to the army. Get it in readiness for the work soon to come. As for the rest, when you remember you are Prussians, you will certainly prove yourselves worthy of the name. But if there be any among you who fear to share danger with me, he can have his discharge this evening without exposing himself to the slightest reproach from me."

The King regarded his veterans questioningly. One of them came forward and said: "He is a knave who would retire or fear to offer his life for his Majesty."

"I was sure," resumed the King, "none of you would desert me. With your faithful aid, victory will be certain. Should I fall and thus be prevented from rewarding you for your service, the Fatherland will do it. Now go to your commands and give them this message: The regiment of cavalry which does not attack the enemy the instant it is ordered, shall be unhorsed after the battle and made a garrison regiment. The regiment of infantry which under any circumstances hesitates in the least, shall lose its colors and arms, and I will cut the decorations from the uniforms. Now, good-bye, gentlemen. We shall soon defeat the enemy or never see each other again."

Both officers and soldiers were deeply impressed by the King's words, and all awaited the battle of the following day with eager expectation. The soldiers were so enthusiastic that they sang sacred hymns to the accompaniment of the field bands. As singing before battle had not previously been customary, one of the generals asked the King if he should not order the soldiers to be silent.

"No!" replied the King. "With such men as these, God certainly will give us the victory."

As the Prussians approached Leuthen, the King was informed that the enemy's force was as strong again as his own.

"I know it," answered the dauntless hero, "but there is only one way out of it—conquer or perish. I would attack them even were they on the Zobtenberg." Before giving the signal for the attack, Frederick called a hussar officer with fifty men to him and said: "I shall expose myself in battle to-day more than usual. You and your fifty men are to serve as my bodyguard. You must not leave me, and you must see to it that I do not fall into the hands of the canaille. If I am killed, cover my body with my cloak, place it in a wagon, and say not a word about it. Let the battle continue and the enemy will be beaten."

About this time the right wing of the cavalry, commanded by Prince Moritz of Dessau, halted at a churchyard, where the Austrians had planted one of their strongest batteries and were firing from time to time upon the skirmishers, sometimes with serious effect. To save them from this fire, Prince Moritz ordered them to fall back; but Frederick, when he noticed the movement, rushed up and cried: "Not yet! not yet! Those are only alarm shots. Children," turning to the skirmishers, "follow me."

They promptly obeyed the King, who led them back to their former position and said: "Stay here. Have no fear. I will send help to you."

While saying this, the enemy's cannonading was kept up. Prince Moritz said to the King: "It is too dangerous for you here, Your Majesty."

"That is true," replied Frederick, with the utmost composure, "but I shall soon drive the Austrians back."

The King made good his promise. The battle began between one and two o'clock, on the fifth of December, 1757. The enemy's line of battle stretched a mile, but Frederick was not alarmed. His main attack was directed against the left wing, and at this point the enemy's line was completely broken. A like fate overtook the right wing, which was simultaneously attacked. The enemy's centre finally gave way, and before dark the King was master of the field. The sanguinary struggle lasted only three hours, but it was one of the most brilliant of his victories. Twenty thousand prisoners fell into the hands of the Prussians, and beside these they captured one hundred and thirty-four cannon and fifty-nine standards. Frederick rewarded Prince Moritz on the field for his service. Drawing rein, he said to him, I congratulate you upon the victory, Herr Field-Marshal "—with these words elevating him to that high position. The exhausted troops camped that night on the battle-field. It was a weird spectacle. All around them were the bodies left by the defeated Austrians, and the groans of the wounded made dreary night music.

Suddenly an old grenadier loudly and jubilantly sang "Nun danket alle Gott, Mit Herzen, Mund, and Handen, Der grosse Dinge thut An uns and alien Erden." ("Now thank God, one and all, With heart, with voice, with hands, Who wonders great hath done To us and to all lands." This hymn of joy voiced the feelings of the soldiers, and when the bands struck up, the whole army joined in the uplifting song of thanksgiving. The effect was indescribable. The religious sentiment in the camp was unmistakable. Everyone had awaited the day with eager expectation. They had faced death in a thousand shapes, and terrible was the remembrance which it left. The pious soldiers passed a sleepless night, and left the field of victory with the proud consciousness that they had added new laurels to their heroic King's wreath of fame.

While in pursuit of the enemy, Frederick with a little band of soldiers approached Lissa. Before arriving he learned that it swarmed with Austrians. The King ordered a halt, reined up his horse, and sent one of his aides back with instructions to bring up the Manteuffel and Wedell battalions of grenadiers, which had been left behind at the last moment, and to say to them that he was so well satisfied with their bravery, they should spend the night with him at his headquarters in Lissa, and every man beside should have a thaler. It was a good half-hour before the two battalions came up, and when they did he placed himself at their head and boldly rode into Lissa, where everything was quiet, although lights were seen in the houses on all sides. As the King, who appeared familiar with the place, rode into the spacious plaza near the castle, and about sixty paces from the bridge across the Schweidnitz, he noticed white-coats coming out of several of the houses with straw on their backs. Most of them were caught by the Prussian grenadiers, and some were brought before the King. When asked what they were doing, one of them replied:

"A captain holds the other end of the bridge with one hundred and fifty men. He was ordered to strew the bridge with straw and set it afire as soon as the Prussians approached. So many towns-people have crossed, however, that the straw was trampled down in the mud and mire, and the captain threw it into the water and sent forty men to the stables to fetch fresh straw."

Some of the white-coats in the meantime had stolen away and notified the captain of the arrival of the Prussians, and while the King was talking with the prisoners he opened a brisk fire, by which some of the grenadiers in the rear of the King were wounded. Great confusion followed. The artillerists cried, "Back! back! we are fired upon!" Those on horseback rode near the houses, so as not to expose themselves to the fire of friend and enemy in the windows. The Prussian artillery opened fire at once, and the grenadiers also joined in. The entire city was in alarm. The Prussians were exposed to a brisk fire from the houses, to which they promptly replied. The tumult was great, and shouts and commands were confusedly mixed. The King, however, remarked with the utmost composure: "Gentlemen, follow me. I am no stranger here." Thereupon he rode to the left over the drawbridge leading to the castle, followed by a few of his officers. He had hardly arrived at the castle entrance when several Austrian officers and attendants, with lanterns in their hands, ran down the steps and made an effort to get to their horses in the castle yard and escape under cover of the darkness. The King, dismounting, quietly confronted them and said: "Good-evening, gentlemen. Evidently you were not expecting me. Is there no room left for me?"

Frederick and the Austrians


It would have been easy for them to have over-powered Frederick if they had had the courage, but the suddenness of his appearance and the confident tone of his voice so completely dazed them that they took the lanterns from the hands of their attendants, lit the King up the stairs, and escorted him to one of the finest of the rooms. The most distinguished of the Austrian officers introduced his comrades to the King, by name and rank, and all joined in agreeable conversation. During this time more Prussian officers arrived at the castle, fearing the King might be in danger; but they found him enjoying himself mightily. He finally took leave of the Austrian officers, however, and they sought quarters in other rooms of the spacious castle.

That same night the King's entire army arrived at Lissa, having been ordered there by mistake. By this time the Prussians had taken a great number of prisoners. Zieten scoured the neighborhood with his hussars, and drove the fugitives even into Bohemia, and pressed the enemy so closely that out of eighty thousand men only about seventeen thousand reached the Bohemian frontier. The King followed, and soon overtook Zieten by a shorter route.