Emperor William First - George Upton

Army Anecdotes

Innumerable anecdotes are told of the personal relations between the Emperor William and his soldiers, a few of which may be given as helping to throw light on the portrait of this great yet kindly sovereign.

After the battle of Mars-la-Tour, the country all about was strewn with dead and wounded soldiers. It was only with the greatest difficulty that a small room was found for the King's use, containing a bed, a table, and a chair. As he entered it he asked:

"Where are Bismarck and Moltke lodged?"

"Nowhere as yet," replied the adjutant, well knowing how needful rest was to them also.

"Then ask them to come and camp here with me," said the King. "You may take away the bed—it will be needed by the wounded—and have some straw and blankets brought here; they will do very well for us."

And so it chanced that the three old comrades spent a rainy night together on the straw; nor was it the only time during this hard and cruel war.

The day after the victory of Gravelotte, as King William was returning to Pont-a-Mousson, he passed through the village of Gorze. The Commander-in-chief was greeted everywhere with the wildest enthusiasm, even by the wounded, with whom the little town was filled. Among the latter was Captain von Zedtwitz. He was lodged with an old soldier Antoine, who had lost a leg at Magenta and who with his little daughter nursed and cared for the desperately wounded officer as well as he was able. When the captain heard the shouts outside, and learned that King William was passing through Gorze, he insisted on sending a greeting to his sovereign likewise. He asked one of the musicians to deliver to the Commander-in-chief a pure white rose with the message: "A wounded officer who can scarcely live through another day, sends this rose to Your Majesty, in memory of Gravelotte!" The King bade his coachman stop. Deeply moved, he took the rose and fastened it in his buttonhole. Then, after asking the name of the thoughtful donor and sending his hearty thanks with wishes for a speedy recovery, went on his way. After a long and tedious illness the captain finally recovered, but was no longer fit for active service. In recognition of his services to the Fatherland he was given the position of district commander in Halberstadt. He had long since forgotten the rose of Gorze, but the Emperor had a good memory where his faithful soldiers were concerned, as Captain von Zedtwitz was to discover. On Christmas Day, 1871, he received a box containing a magnificent oil painting depicting a monument on which were inscribed the words "Gorze, August 19, 1870." A German flag half covered the monument, at the foot of which was an infantry helmet decorated with an Iron Cross and encircled by a laurel leaf. At the top of the heavy gold frame gleamed a massive silver rose. Accompanying this gift was the following note in the Emperor's own handwriting:

"In grateful remembrance of that never-to-be-forgotten day in Gorze when you, desperately wounded, sent me a rose from your couch of pain as I, unknowing, was passing by. May the accompanying picture serve as a lasting token of your devotion to your sovereign and his gratitude to you, Christmas, 1871.


"December 22, 1871.

After the battle of Sedan the King's headquarters were at Clermont, with a regiment of Bavarian cavalry in guard. The men had had a long, hard march in the rain that day, and their commanding officer, feeling ill, despatched his orderly in search of some wine. It was forbidden to ask for supplies at headquarters, so the colonel gave him a thaler and charged him to buy it somewhere. On reaching the marketplace the trooper discovered a large tavern, before the door of which stood two Prussian staff orderlies who, as he approached, motioned him to pass on. With the thaler in his hand, however, the Bavarian felt himself as good as any one, so he marched boldly up to the door of the inn and knocked loudly. For some time there was no response, but at length it was opened by an elderly officer, who asked him what he wanted.

"My colonel is sick and must have a flask of wine," replied the orderly.

"In just a moment, my son!" said the old man with a kindly smile, and disappeared within the house, but soon returned with a flask which he handed to the other, saying, "Here is what your colonel needs. I hope it will do him good."

The Bavarian took the wine in his left hand, still grasping the thaler in his right. What should he do? He was not allowed to accept anything without paying for it, neither could he offer money to an officer. At length the old man, perceiving his embarrassment, inquired whether his colonel had given him any other commission. Whereupon the honest fellow explained his difficulty, at the same time attempting to thrust the thaler into the old man's hand. But the latter only waved him away, saying:

"Never mind that, my good man, but hurry back to your colonel with the wine, and say the King of Prussia sends it to him with wishes for a speedy recovery."

"The King of Prussia!" repeated the Bavarian in bewilderment. "Where is the King of Prussia, then?"

"I am he," replied the old man, and shut the door.

The colonel was anxiously waiting his orderly's return, but looked very grave when he laid the thaler on the table beside the flask.

"You fool!" he cried angrily, "did I not tell you not to make any requisition?"

"But I did not, sir," replied the fellow with a grin. "There was an old man at the tavern who said he was the King of Prussia; he gave me the flask and wished you a quick recovery."

"What is that!" cried the colonel in great excitement. "From the King of Prussia, did you say?" and he gazed with astonishment at the good monarch's gift. With awe he lifted the first glass to his thirsty lips, thinking to himself, "This is from the King of Prussia," but as the last drop disappeared he shouted aloud in a burst of enthusiasm, "Long live King William!"

One day during the siege of Paris, as the King was visiting the outposts, he discovered a fusilier deeply absorbed in a letter, his weapon on the ground at his feet and apparently quite oblivious to his duties. Roused by the sound of hoofs and recognizing his commander-in-chief, he hastily dropped the letter, took up his gun, and presented arms. The King rode up to him and said, smiling:

"A letter from the sweetheart at home, no doubt, my son!"

"No, sire," replied the terrified soldier; "it is from my mother."

Somewhat doubtful of the truth of these words, the King looked sternly at him and asked to see it.

"Certainly, Your Majesty," replied the soldier, and quickly picking up the letter he handed it to his chief. The King read it through, glanced kindly at the fusilier, and told his adjutant to take the man's name, then rode on. The letter was from the man's mother, telling of his sister's approaching marriage and the sorrow of all there that he could not be present.

The next day the fusilier was ordered to appear before his captain, and he obeyed the summons with an anxious heart, thinking to himself, "Now I am undone! This means at least eight days' arrest for neglect of duty." Great was his surprise, therefore, when the captain informed him that by the King's orders he had been granted fourteen days' leave to attend his sister's wedding, and that free transportation there and back would be furnished him. The overjoyed soldier was soon on the train bound for his distant home, where a joyous welcome waited his unexpected arrival. When the wedding guests heard the story of the letter, they all clinked glasses joyfully and drank to the King's health with a rousing cheer.

A grenadier of the First Regiment of Guards was also one of the gardeners at Babelsberg. The Emperor arriving there unexpectedly one day, this man was sent to accompany him about the park to point out the various improvements. The Emperor was much pleased with his intelligent conversation, but presently noticed that he began to be very uneasy and even looked at the time, which was not considered proper in the presence of the sovereign.

"What is the matter, young man?" he asked.

"Well, Your Majesty," replied the other, "this is my first year of volunteer service, in the First Regiment of Guards, and my captain is very strict. I am due at the barracks in three-quarters of an hour, and it is impossible for me to get there now except with the utmost haste. I shall be late unless Your Majesty will be so gracious as to release me."

Much pleased with his gardener's punctuality, the Emperor sent him to don his uniform with all speed and ordered his carriage to be brought around immediately. Then motioning to the grenadier to take the seat beside him, they set off for the town with a gallop. The company was already in line as the carriage drew up at the barracks, but the Emperor spoke to the captain in person, explaining that it was his fault that the man was late and asking that he should not be punished.

Still another instance of King William's unfailing kindness and consideration to all classes is shown in the following incident. At a grand review held on the field of Tempelhof, the Emperor's sharp eyes suddenly discovered a sergeant-major who could scarcely stand upright and whose deathly pallor betrayed either serious illness or some violent emotion. He rode up at once to the man and asked what ailed him.

"It is nothing, Your Majesty, I am better already," was the answer; but the tears in the eyes of the bearded soldier belied his words. The Emperor's gaze rested on his pale face with fatherly kindness and he said encouragingly,

"Do not try to conceal anything from me, sergeant; you too wear the Iron Cross, so we are brothers in arms, and comrades should have no secrets from each other."

Unable to resist this exhortation, the sergeant responded, "Alas, Your Majesty, just now as we were marching out here, my only child, a promising boy of six, was run over by a wagon, and I do not know what has become of him."

The Emperor immediately sent an adjutant to appropriate one of the near-by conveyances occupied by spectators for the use of the sergeant, whom he excused for the rest of the day, and the anxious father with tears of gratitude in his eyes hastened home to his family.

A touching trait of the Emperor's character is shown in his habit of making the rounds of the hospitals in time of war to assure himself personally that his wounded subjects were receiving the necessary care, and cheer them with a kindly word of encouragement or some slight gift. In the bloody year of 1866 the Woman's Aid Society built a private hospital in Berlin, which King William frequently honored with his presence. Among the patients was a musketeer who had lost his left arm.

"Your Majesty," said this man one day to the King, "I am twenty-four years old to-day. To have had the happiness of seeing the King on my birthday—I shall never forget it, sire!"

"Nor shall I, my brave fellow," replied the King, giving his hand to the soldier, who kissed it with deep emotion. The King passed on from bed to bed, but just as he was about to leave he said to his suite, "I must see that man again whose birthday it is," and returning to the musketeer's cot he talked with him for some time. That night, after the invalid was asleep and dreaming of his sovereign, one of the royal huntsmen appeared with a gold watch and chain, sent by the King as a remembrance of the day. The lucky man was often asked where he got this fine watch.

"Guess!" he would always say, and after the inquisitive questioner had tried in vain to solve the riddle, he would shout with a beaming face: "It is from my King, my good King William!"

Once while the King was visiting the hospital at Versailles with the Crown Prince and several of his generals, they came to the cot of a Silesian militia-man who had had his right leg amputated and been shot in the right shoulder also. When, asked What his injuries were, he replied:

"I have lost my right leg, Your Majesty, which troubles me much, for now I shall not be able to go on to Paris with the rest of the army. And besides that the churls have shot me here in the shoulder."

Every one laughed, and the King said: "Cheer up, my son! You shall have a new leg and enter Paris with us yet."

"That may be, sire," declared the simple-hearted Silesian, "but I can never win the Iron Cross now."

Again there was a laugh; but the Crown Prince laid his hand on the brave fellow's head, saying,

"You shall have that too, my man," and the King quietly nodded assent and passed on, his eyes moist with tears.

On another cot at this same hospital lay a pale young infantryman. The physician had given him a sleeping potion which had brought temporary forgetfulness of his sufferings. As the Emperor stood quietly looking down at him, his eye fell on an album which the invalid had evidently been reading when sleep overtook him. He picked it up arid wrote in pencil on one of the pages, "My son, always remember your King," then laid it back on the bed and passed on. When the wounded man awoke and found his sovereign's greeting, tears of joy streamed down his cheeks and he pressed the precious writing to his lips, sobbing. On the Emperor's next visit he saw, by the deathly pallor of the wounded infantryman, that death was near and the poor fellow was past all aid or comfort. But the soul had not yet left the body, a gleam of consciousness still lingered in the fast-glazing eyes, and he recognized the Emperor standing beside him. The half-closed eyelids opened wide, and with a last supreme effort the dying man lifted himself and cried out,

"Yes, I will remember Your Majesty, even up above!" then fell back lifeless on his cot.

"Amen!" murmured the Emperor, and he gently closed the eyes of the young hero who had died so true a soldier's death.