Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape and they will prefer death to flight. — Sun Tzu

Maria Theresa of Austria - George Upton




Close of the Long Struggle

The campaign of 1759 began with inroads by the Prussians, who committed terrible ravages. Prince Henry of Prussia was ordered to destroy the warehouses and magazines in Bohemia as well as in Franconia, both of which were suffering from depredations he had made with the object of replenishing Prussia's war coffers.

Daun did not take the field until later. He cautiously waited for the appearance of the allies, and besides, it was important to effect the union of Laudon with the Russians. Although Frederick exerted himself to prevent this, Daun carried out his plans successfully, and confronted the King with an army of sixty thousand men. As the latter's total force amounted to only forty thousand, he retired, and the allies took up a strong position near Kunersdorf. There they were boldly attacked by the Prussians, and a battle ensued which at first seemed to promise Frederick a brilliant victory; but Laudon changed the fortunes of the day and drove the Prussians from the field. When Frederick wrote to his minister, Von Finkenstein, that it was a misfortune he still lived, he expressed his desperate situation after the battle of Kunersdorf, for had the Russians followed up their advantage he must inevitably have been overwhelmed. A disagreement between Laudon and the Russian General Soltikoff was the cause of this failure, or, as was afterwards maintained and perhaps with some reason, the Russians' crafty policy did not include Frederick's complete destruction. Although Soltikoff, with an eye to possible changes in the Russian government and its attitude toward the King of Prussia, may have determined not to follow up the victory, still it is difficult to explain why Daun should have remained inactive when the enemy's complete defeat would have inevitably produced such important results for Austria. At last he moved to another position at Triebel, which commanded the Prussian situation; but Prince Henry contrived to annoy and harass his troops constantly without risking a decisive engagement.

One misfortune after another befell Frederick. General Finck's corps of twelve thousand men were defeated and taken prisoners by Daun, a heavy blow to the King's pride as well as to his army; and a few days later fifteen thousand of Diereck's force shared the same fate. Such a succession of disasters seriously crippled Frederick's resources, and even the reinforcements brought him by the Hereditary Prince of Brunswick could do nothing to help matters.

Notwithstanding the severity of the weather, it was not until the beginning of January, 176o, that the armies went into Winter quarters. Frederick remained in Freiberg, and his troops camped in the villages about Dresden, some of them even in tents. It was bitterly cold and they could keep warm only by huddling together. Sickness broke out among them, and the mortality was great; but Daun did not fare much better. Both armies suffered terribly, and their losses were heavy.

The year had been a disastrous one for Frederick, and fortune had smiled on the Empress; but her goal, Silesia, was still far distant, although Frederick's lack of resources for the continuance of the war seemed to bring it a little nearer. Her affairs, indeed, were in better condition than the King's. He was in great need of money to recruit his army, and obliged to resort to any expedient to obtain it. He could not afford to be particular about his methods, as poor Saxony discovered to its cost. The willingness of its subjects to make sacrifices for her made it easier for Maria Theresa to obtain the means that she also needed for the prosecution of the war. Frederick tried in various ways to bring about a peace, but the Empress would not yield now that her hopes seemed about to be realized. She resolutely determined to continue the struggle for the sake of Silesia, that precious jewel she hoped soon to place once more in her imperial crown.

The next campaign opened in Silesia, and propitiously for Maria Theresa; for, at Landshut, Laudon destroyed a whole Prussian army corps under General Fouquet, with the exception of a small detachment of cavalry which managed to cut its way through and escape. Fouquet was taken prisoner, and all his supplies and ammunition fell into the hands of the Austrians. Important as this achievement was in itself, its principal value to Maria Theresa lay in the effect produced by so signal a victory at the very beginning of the campaign. Her troops had fought with desperate fury and showed no quarter, for they had been met with stubborn resistance and heroic valor on the part of the Prussians. There was great rejoicing when the news of the victory reached Vienna, and no one was happier than the Empress over the moral effect it produced.

Frederick, who was confronting Daun in Saxony, had determined to go to the assistance of Fouquet in Silesia, but Daun followed, or rather kept close beside him, while Lacy was in the rear, annoying and impeding him at every turn and doing much damage to his supply trains. Therefore he halted at Gorlitz, and, changing his plan entirely, decided to attempt the re-conquest of Dresden. He forced Lacy out of his way, evaded the Imperial army, and summoned Dresden to surrender. Failing in an attempt to surprise the city, he began to bombard it, although he lacked heavy artillery. When Daun discovered the King's move, he lost no time in turning back after him, and, reaching Dresden, dispersed the Prince of Holstein's force, and sent a considerable body of troops to the assistance of the garrison, in spite of all Frederick's efforts to prevent it. Thinking that Daun would not allow the city to be ruined, he continued the bombardment, and wrought havoc within the walls. Great as its distress was, however, Dresden would not yield, and Frederick's troubles increased daily. Glatz was captured, his losses at Dresden were very heavy, and a large part of his necessary supplies fell into the hands of the Austrians.

Thus blow followed blow, and the loss of Glatz depressed Frederick in proportion as it rejoiced Maria Theresa, who thereby gained once more a foothold in Silesia. Nor was Laudon content with his easy conquest of Glatz. Encouraged by it, and knowing the insufficiency of the garrison at Breslau, he proceeded directly to that place, expecting as speedy a victory there as at Glatz; a natural error, perhaps, but a serious one, as he soon discovered. The commander at Breslau was Tauentzien, a man not easy to subdue. Although Laudon brought all his force to bear against the city, he made no progress toward its capture; and when Prince Henry came to its relief, he was forced to raise the siege.

Frederick meantime had abandoned his fruitless bombardment of Dresden and hastened to Silesia, where his presence was needed; but Daun must have been accurately informed as to his movements, for he followed closely and passed him, Lacy falling to the rear of the Prussians. Thus there was the strange spectacle of what seemed like one huge army marching toward Silesia in three divisions, while Laudon approached with his troops from Breslau to meet them, and the Russians also advanced to join the allies. The Austrian officer seemed quite justified in his remark when he said, "The bag is open and ready to catch the Prussians; we have only to pull the string!"

When this was repeated to Frederick his eyes flashed, and he said with a bitter laugh, "The man has spoken truly; but I will make a hole in the bag that they will not find it easy to mend!"

Vienna waited anxiously for the next news. Such a thing as Frederick's escape seemed scarcely possible. But almost every night he changed his position, which kept Daun in uncertainty as to his whereabouts, and it was this ceaseless activity and the wonderful mobility of his troops which proved "the hole in the bag" that was to show him the way out.

From the positions occupied by the encircling armies of the enemy, he perceived it was Daun's plan to annihilate him by a combined attack. The decisive moment arrived on the fourteenth of August, 1760. Daun was absolutely certain of success; and indeed who would not have been, with the Prussians completely surrounded as they were? During the night, however, Frederick abandoned his position and moved to Parchwitz. Surprised and chagrined, Daun found that his plans were frustrated, and that, while the Prussians had not yet escaped from the bag," he had not altogether succeeded in pulling the string." Nor was Laudon any the less astonished, when he approached Liegnitz with thirty thousand men, to find the Prussians drawn up in order of battle. He hastened to form his own lines, but had only partially succeeded when the enemy attacked him. Taken completely by surprise, Laudon had the added disadvantage of a most unfavorable position, which greatly impeded the movements of his troops. Though they fought bravely, returning again and again to the charge, he was finally forced to retreat with heavy loss.

Everything seemed to have conspired against the Austrian generals. Daun might have sent assistance to Laudon had he known of the battle; but a strong wind prevented any sound of the heavy firing from reaching him, so he suspected nothing. If Laudon had sent him word, the result might have been different—indeed must have been; but even when he received news of it Daun made no move, thinking the locality where the attack would have to be made was too unfavorable to offer any hope of success.

Laudon was depressed by this defeat; but he was not held responsible for it even by the Empress, who, while she regretted a misfortune that was also her own, sent him assurances of her sympathy and continued favor. To be able thus to "pour wine and oil on his wounds" and keep up her own courage as well, instead of giving way to depression, was still another proof of the strength and wisdom that never failed her.

Frederick was well aware that his victory had brought him only temporary relief. He had made the "hole in the bag," to be sure, but to get out of it was another matter. Daun understood this also, but none the less his failure to assist Laudon was a grave error. His plans were well laid, for the position of the Austrian and Russian forces not only made it very difficult for the Prussians to obtain their supplies, but must in time cut them off altogether. The resources of Breslau had been so exhausted by the siege that Frederick's only way out of his predicament was the doubtful possibility of a victory over Daun's army. The withdrawal of the Russians, however, opened the way for him to Bohemia, but in Saxony his outlook was unfavorable. The "hole in the bag" had helped him only for the time being, and Daun meanwhile was planning to strike a blow at his heart by seizing Berlin. Should the Russians be able to accomplish this, he was to fall back, while an Austrian auxiliary force under Lacy advanced to their support.

This plan was carried out, and on the third of October the Russian vanguard suddenly appeared before Berlin. The danger was imminent, and, while the city hastily prepared for defence, Prince Eugene of Wurtemberg, who had been opposing the Swedes, hurried a part of his army to the capital by forced marches. Help was also summoned from Saxony, but the odds (sixteen thousand against thirty-five thousand) were too great, and Berlin was forced to capitulate. It was well for the city that General Tottleben showed both clemency and forbearance, and spared the treasures of art and learning accumulated there; but Lacy's Austrian and Saxon troops were not so considerate, and Fred Brick's palaces were overrun and despoiled by them.

It was only a few days, however, before the news that Frederick himself was approaching to the rescue of his capital drove the enemy from the walls of Berlin. Matters had not been progressing favorably for the King. His prospects were still dark, and if they were to assume a brighter aspect he would be obliged to attack Daun, whose position at Torgau was so strong as to make it a very difficult undertaking. The Austrian troops were fresh, moreover, and well equipped; but, notwithstanding all this and the advantage of numbers,—Daun had sixty thousand men, while he had but forty thousand himself,—Frederick decided to make the attempt, desperate as it seemed.

The struggle was long and deadly; the constant discharge of artillery shook the earth and whole ranks were mown down, even the King himself being wounded. Daun received a bullet in the thigh, but he was so confident of victory that he despatched a messenger to Vienna with the news—too soon, however, for the day was not yet ended! Just as night was closing in, Zieten, who had previously taken no part in the action, scaled the heights of Suplitz and captured the hill. This decided the fate of the Austrians. Notwithstanding all their efforts, they were compelled to give way and retreat to Dresden,—a bitter blow to Daun, who had already announced his victory in Vienna! The battle was one of the bloodiest of the war; sixteen thousand Austrians lay dead on the field or were taken prisoners. But the Prussians had paid dearly for their victory, having lost fourteen thousand men. Maria Theresa, however, showed her usual tact and magnanimity toward the defeated general, by going out of her way to meet him on his return from Torgau, and seeing that his wound received proper attention.

Frederick had not succeeded, however, in wresting the Plauen valley, the key to Dresden, from the Austrians. They went into Winter quarters there, while Laudon, after an unsuccessful attempt to capture Kosel, retired to Glatt. The Russians withdrew to Poland and the Swedes to Pomerania. The French had accomplished little and had met with many reverses, but toward the end of the campaign they obtained a victory over the Hereditary Prince of Brunswick. The struggle was continued in Hesse without any decisive results, until the coming of Winter made it necessary to suspend hostilities. Thus ended the fifth year of the war, with its harvest of death and destruction, leaving all the armies completely exhausted. And still no sign of peace!

Notwithstanding his victories, Frederick had suffered heavily, and the future looked dark for him; while Maria Theresa could look forward, if not confidently, at least with less doubt and anxiety. She continued her preparations most indefatigably. Laudon was placed in command in Silesia, while Saxony was assigned to Daun as his field of action, the object of their united endeavors being the re-conquest of Silesia. Frederick was aware of this, and shaped his plans accordingly, although circumstances compelled him to act strictly on the defensive. He occupied the famous camp at Bunselwiltz, where he was in a good position to protect Schweidnitz. Laudon was anxious to attack him there, but the Russian General Butterlin refused to be drawn into a decisive engagement; at most he would only consent to assist Laudon with an auxiliary force. Frederick had no fear of an attack by day, but was obliged to guard against the danger of being surprised at night. September of 1761 came, and still nothing had occurred. On the thirtieth of that month, however, Laudon made a sudden attack on Schweidnitz, from all sides at once, and the commander there, who had neglected all precautions, taken completely by surprise, was forced to surrender unconditionally.

Frederick's star seemed to be setting; for in Pomerania too he had been unfortunate. The usual vacillating and dilatory methods of the War Office favored him somewhat, for Laudon had received orders not to undertake any further operations and to confine himself to the defensive. The fall of Kolberg, which had made a stout resistance, and only capitulated when all the supplies had given out, was a fresh blow to the King. The Prussians had met with no decisive results in their encounters with the French, nor had they succeeded in inflicting any damage upon them. The end of the campaign left Frederick apparently on the verge of ruin. Maria Theresa's heart was full of joy and hope, for never had Silesia been so nearly within her grasp as now, when her enemy had apparently exhausted his last resources.

The beginning of the year 1762 seemed to give her fresh grounds for hope, but these were suddenly dissipated by the news of the death of the Czarina Elizabeth of Russia. She had been Frederick's bitterest enemy, and her successor, Peter III, was his most enthusiastic admirer. The new Czar gave immediate proof of his friendship by issuing a manifesto in which he formally announced his intention of making peace with Prussia. A treaty was signed May 5, 1762, which restored to Frederick all conquests made by the Russians, and paved the way for an alliance between the two countries. This completely altered the aspect of affairs, and dashed Maria Theresa's hopes and plans to the ground; for Frederick was now in a position to concentrate all his forces against Austria. Sweden too had withdrawn from its alliance with Austria, and followed the example of Russia in making terms of peace with Prussia. Everything seemed conspiring against the Empress.

Silesia still remained the centre of the struggle, and Frederick assumed the command there in person, the recapture of Schweidnitz being his first object. Choosing a favorable position, he awaited the arrival of the Russian troops promised him by his new ally, Peter III, before attempting any important move against his old adversary, Daun. Just as all his preparations were complete, however, and he was about to begin the attack, news arrived which threatened to upset all his plans. The Czar, Peter III, had been dethroned. Catherine II immediately succeeded him, and her first act was the recall of the troops which had been sent to assist the Prussians. This was a misfortune which Frederick had not anticipated, but he tried to avert its immediate disastrous results by persuading the Russian general to defer his departure for three days. This made prompt action necessary, but Frederick was the man of all others to meet emergencies. Although the Russians took no part in the action, Daun was quite in the dark as to their attitude, and this uncertainty obliged him to weaken his force by detaching a body of troops to watch them. Frederick's attack was successful. Daun's army was defeated and driven from the heights of Burkersdorf.

The King's greatest anxiety now concerned Catherine's attitude toward European affairs; consequently her declaration of neutrality was a great relief to his mind, for he feared that Russia's power might be again exerted on the side of Austria. After his victory at Burkersdorf, he lost no time in laying siege to Schweidnitz. Daun tried to relieve brave old Count Guasco, who was in command there, but met with such a serious defeat at Reichenbach that he was obliged to leave the stronghold to the fate which finally overtook it.

The King next turned his attention to Saxony, where his brother Henry was bravely resisting the Austrians and the Imperial army. The Austrians had not been meeting with great success, but the arrival of Count Haddick as commander-in-chief seemed to turn the fortune of war again in their favor. Had Haddick not waited for reinforcements from Daun, Prince Henry would probably have been defeated; but by the time they arrived the Prussian army had also been strengthened by troops from Silesia, and in the battle of Freiberg, which immediately ensued, the Austrians were defeated with heavy loss.

It was the last battle of this dreadful war, which for so many long years had wrought untold misery throughout the wretched countries that had been the scene of the bloody conflict. Frederick, to be sure, continued the struggle against the Imperial army until the panic caused by Kleist's hussars forced the small German States to beg for peace. In Westphalia, and Hesse, also, the Prussians at last laid down their victorious arms. In truth, the exhaustion of all parties made peace imperative. It was finally declared February t s, 1763, and a treaty was signed at Hubertsburg which restored all conquests and left everything practically where it was at the beginning of the Seven Years' War, Prussia retaining undisturbed possession of Silesia.

This was the heaviest sacrifice that Maria Theresa could have been called upon to make for peace. It cost her a great struggle with herself, and many bitter tears, but she did it so that the blessings of peace might be restored to her people.