Frederick the Great - George Upton

The Brilliant Victory at Rossbach

Frederick encountered the enemy at Rossbach, November 5, 1757. He could only oppose twenty-two thousand men to an army over sixty thousand strong. The disparity was great, but he relied upon his good fortune and the bravery of his soldiers. As was his invariable custom upon critical occasions, he sought to inspire his troops with words of encouragement.

"The hour has come," he said to them, "when all that is sacred to us depends upon our bravery. You know that I have shared fatigue, hunger, cold, night-watches, and dangers with you, and you know that I am ready to sacrifice my life with you and for you. All I ask in return is the same trust and goodwill. Act now like men, and trust in God."

The King's simple words made a deep impression. His soldiers answered with an enthusiastic shout. "We will die with you!" exclaimed the grizzled warriors, while tears rolled down their powder-stained cheeks. The King was deeply moved by these expressions of love and devotion. He had chosen an elevated spot for his camp. The enemy was exultant, for they believed it an easy task to capture the little army, and they hastened to surround the site where it was camped so as to cut off escape in every direction. Frederick's sharp eyes watched their movements, but they did not appear to trouble him. On the other hand, he ordered his soldiers to eat their dinner, he and his generals at the same time sitting at open table. The French could not conceal their surprise at such recklessness. They were sure he was ignorant of his inevitable fate. They were not aware it was only a trick, for while part of the soldiers were eating, the others were getting the horses in order and artillery and ammunition in readiness. When all the preparations were made, and the King believed the right moment had come, the tents disappeared in a trice and the Prussians stood in marching order, ready for the attack. Before it began, the King noticed Moller, an artillery colonel, who was of great service to him in field operations, and who at all critical times, when his advice was asked, invariably said, "Believe me, Your Majesty, my guardian angel says it will be all right."

Moller had been assigned a very important position. The King had ordered his guns placed so that they were invisible to the enemy, and had hopes of good results from them. He hastened up to him, and placing his hand familiarly upon his shoulder, said, "Well, Moller, what does your guardian angel say this time? Is everything all right?"

"Oh, yes, Your Majesty," he replied. "My angel promises victory."

"At it, then, in God's name," answered Frederick, and at his signal the battle began. The artillery poured a terrible rain of shot into the French ranks, and the infantry accompanied the crashes of cannon with such a din of musketry that the French were taken completely by surprise. They had not recovered from it when General Seydlitz, hurling his pipe into the air and shouting "Forward!" gave the signal to his troopers to charge. Impetuously they dashed out from behind the hill, and hurled themselves upon the French like a thunderbolt, riding down and sabring everyone in their way.

The panic-stricken enemy could offer no resistance. All who could, fled to escape destruction. The battle of Rossbach from that time on was simply a wild hunt. They threw away everything that might impede their flight. Cavalrymen dismounted, took off their great boots, and unbuckled their sabres. Whole battalions were taken prisoners by a few hussars without making any resistance, while others hid among the bushes or branches of trees. Few of them stopped until the Rhine was behind them. In short, it was a spectacle the like of which the world had rarely seen before. The attack began at two o'clock, and at nightfall not a Frenchman was to be seen. Two thousand of the enemy were left upon the field and seven thousand were captured. Sixty-three cannon and twenty-three standards were also taken. The Prussians lost only ninety-one. All Germany was jubilant over the victory, for the French had made themselves bitterly hated by their outrages.

Immediately after the battle, the heroic King led his brave troops into Silesia, where the Austrians were once more active, having taken Breslau and Schweidnitz, and confident they would become masters of the whole province. In about a fortnight the Prussians reached the Oder. On the march thither, a fortunate event occurred. As the Austrians, four thousand strong, were taking the garrison of Schweidnitz to a place of imprisonment, the latter heard of the great victory their beloved King had won at Rossbach. Aroused by the news, they fell upon their guards and cut them down, and regained their freedom. Uncertain where they were going, they by chance met the King's army, of whose movements they were ignorant. Frederick, as delighted as he was surprised, cordially greeted them, and all considered the happy incident as a good omen for the future.