- History of Friedrich II of Prussia - Frederick the Great (Chapter X. - Battle of Mollwitz) by Napoleon Bonaparte
HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
Regions Alphabetically Nationality Timelines Topics Glossary

Related Materials


Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc

All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
28 October, 2012
Real Time Analytics

History of Friedrich II of Prussia - Frederick the Great
Chapter X. - Battle of Mollwitz

by Napoleon Bonaparte

"To-morrow," Sunday, did not prove the Day of Fight, after all. Being a day of wild drifting snow, so that you could not see twenty paces, there was nothing for it but to sit quiet. The King makes all his dispositions; sketches out punctually, to the last item, where each is to station himself, how the Army is to advance in Four Columns, ready for Neipperg wherever he may be,--towards Ohlau at any rate, whither it is not doubted Neipperg is bent. These snowy six-and-thirty hours at Pogarell were probably, since the Custrin time, the most anxious of Friedrich's life.

Neipperg, for his part, struggles forward a few miles, this Sunday, April 9th; the Prussians rest under shelter in the wild weather. Neipperg's head-quarters, this night, are a small Village or Hamlet, called Mollwitz: there and in the adjacent Hamlets, chiefly in Laugwitz and Gruningen, his Army lodges itself:--he is now fairly got between us and Ohlau,--if, in the blowing drift, we knew it, or he knew it. But, in this confusion of the elements, neither party knows of the other: Neipperg has appointed that to-morrow, Monday, l0th, shall be a rest-day:--appointment which could by no means be kept, as it turned out!

Friedrich had despatched messengers to Ohlau, that the force there should join him; messengers are all captured. The like message had already gone to Brieg, some days before, and the Blockading Body, a good few thousand strong, quitted Brieg, as we saw, and effected their junction with him. All day, this Sunday, 9th, it still snows and blows; you cannot see a yard before you. No hope now of Holstein-Beck. Not the least news from any quarter; Ohlau uncertain, too likely the wrong way: What is to be done? We are cut off from our Magazines, have only provision for one other day. "Had this weather lasted," says an Austrian reporter of these things, "his Majesty would have passed his time very ill." [ Feldzuge der Preussen (the complete Title is, Sammlung ungedruckter Nachrichten so die Geschichte der Feldzuge der Preussen von 1740 bis 1779 erlautern, or in English words, Collection of unprinted Narratives which elucidate the Prussian Campaigns from 1740 to 1779: 5 vols. Dresden, 1782-1785), i. 33. Excellent Narratives, modest, brief, effective (from Private Diaries and the like; many of them given also in SEYFARTH); well worth perusal by the studious military man, and creditably characteristic of the Prussian writers of them and actors in them.]

Of the Battle of Mollwitz, as indeed of all Friedrich's Battles, there are ample accounts new and old, of perfect authenticity and scientific exactitude; so that in regard to military points the due clearness is, on study, completely attainable. But as to personal or human details, we are driven back upon a miscellany of sources; most of which, indeed all of which except Nicolai, when he sparingly gives us anything, are of questionable nature; and, without intending to be dishonest, do run out into the mythical, and require to be used with caution. The latest and notablest of these, in regard to Mollwitz, is the pamphlet of a Dr. Fuchs; from which, in spite of its amazing quality, we expect to glean a serviceable item here and there. [ Jubelschrift zur Feier (Centenary) der Schlacht bei Mollwitz, 10 April, 1741, von Dr. Medicinae Fuchs (Brieg, 10th April, 1841).] It is definable as probably the most chaotic Pamphlet ever written; and in many places, by dint of uncorrected printing, bad grammar, bad spelling, bad sense, and in short, of intrinsic darkness in so vivacious a humor, it has become abstruse as Sanscrit; and really is a sharp test of what knowledge you otherwise have of the subject. Might perhaps be used in that way, by the Examining Military Boards, in Prussia and elsewhere, if no other use lie in it? Fuchs's own contributions, mere ignorance, folly and credulity, are not worth interpreting: but he has printed, and in the same abstruse form, one or two curious Parish Manuscripts, particularly a "HISTORY" of this War, privately jotted down by the then Schoolmaster of Mollwitz, a good simple accurate old fellow-creature; through whose eyes it is here and there worth while to look. In regard to Fuchs himself, a late Tourist says:--

"This 'Centenary-Celebration Pamphlet' (Celebration itself, so obtuse was the Country, did not take effect) was by a zealous, noisy but not wise, old Medical Gentleman of these parts, called Dr. Fuchs (FOX); who had set his heart on raising, by subscription, a proper National Monument on the Field of Mollwitz, and so closing his old career. Subscriptions did not take, in that April, 1841, nor in the following months or twelve-months: the zealous Doctor, therefore, indignantly drew his own purse; got a big Obelisk of Granite hewn ready, with suitable Inscription on it; carted his big Obelisk from the quarries of Strehlen; assembled the Country round it, on Mollwitz Field; and passionately discoursed and pleaded, That at least the Country should bring block-and-tackle, with proper framework, and set up this Obelisk on the pedestal he had there built for it. The Country listened cheerfully (for the old Doctor was a popular man, clever though flighty); but the Country was again obtuse in the way of active furtherance, and would not even bring block-and-tackle. The old Doctor had to answer, 'Well, then!' and go on his way on more serious errands. The cattle have much undermined, and rubbed down, his poor Pedestal, which is of rubble-work; his Obelisk still lies mournfully horizontal, uninjured;--and really ought to be set up, by some parish-rate, or effort of the community otherwise." [Tourist's Note (Brieg, 1858).]

From the old Mollwitz Schoolmaster we distil the following:--

"MOLLWITZ, SUNDAY, 9th APRIL. Country for two days back: was in new alarm by the Austrian Garrison of Brieg now left at liberty, who sallied out upon the Villages about, and plundered black-cattle, sheep, grain, and whatever they could come at. But this day (Sunday) in Mollwitz the whole Austrian Army was upon us. First, there went 300 Hussars through the Village to Gruningen, who quartered themselves there; and rushed hither and thither into houses, robbing and plundering. From one they took his best horses, from another they took linen, clothes, and other furnitures and victual. General Neuburg [Neipperg] halted here at Mollwitz, with the whole Army; before the Village, in mind to quarter. And quarter was settled, so that a BAUER [Plough-Farmer] got four to five companies to lodge, and a GARTNER [Spade-Farmer] two or three hundred cavalry. .The houses were full of Officers, the GARTE [Garths] and the Fields full of horsemen and baggage; and all round, you saw nothing but fires burning; the ZAUNE [wooden railings] were instantly torn down for firewood; the hay, straw, barley and haver, were eaten away, and brought to nothing; and everything from the barns was carried out. And, as the whole Army could not lodge itself with us, 1,100 Infantry quartered at Laugwitz; Barzdorf got 400 Cavalry; and this day, nobody knew what would come of it." [Extract in FUCHS, p. 6.]

Monday morning, the Prussians are up betimes; King Friedrich, as above noted, had not, or had hardly at all, slept during those two nights, such his anxieties. This morning, all is calm, sleeked out into spotless white; Pogarell and the world are wrapt as in a winding-sheet, near two feet of snow on the ground. Air hard and crisp; a hot sun possible about noon season. "By daybreak" we are all astir, rendezvousing, ranking,--into Four Columns; ready to advance in that fashion for battle, or for deploying into battle, wherever the Enemy turn up. The orders were all given overnight, two nights ago; were all understood, too, and known to be rhadamanthine; and, down to the lowest pioneer, no man is uncertain what to do. If we but knew where the Enemy is; on which side of us; what doing, what intending?

Scouts, General-Adjutants are out on the quest; to no purpose hitherto. One young General-Adjutant, Saldern, whose name we shall know again, has ridden northward, has pulled bridle some way north of Pogarell; hangs, gazing diligently through his spy-glass, there;--can see nothing but a Plain of silent snow, with sparse bearding of bushes (nothing like a hedge in these countries), and here and there a tree, the miserable skeleton of a poplar:-- when happily, owing to an Austrian Dragoon--Be pleased to accept (in abridged form) the poor old Schoolmaster's account of a small thing:--

"Austrian Dragoon of the regiment Althan, native of Kriesewitz in this neighborhood, who was billeted in Christopher Schonwitz's, had been much in want of a clean shirt, and other interior outfit; and had, last night, imperatively despatched the man Scholzke, a farm-servant of the said Christopher's, off to his, the Dragoon's, Father in Kriesewitz, to procure such shirt or outfit, and to return early with the same; under penalty of--Scholzke and his master dare not think under what penalty. Scholzke, floundering homewards with the outfit from Kriesewitz, flounders at this moment into Saldern's sphere of vision: 'Whence, whither?' asks Saldern: 'Dost thou know where the Austrians are?' (RECHT GUT: in Mollwitz, whither I am going!' Saldern takes him to the King,--and that was the first clear light his Majesty had on the matter." [Fuchs, pp. 6, 7.] That or something equivalent, indisputably was; Saldern and "a Peasant," the account of it in all the Books.

The King says to this Peasant, "Thou shalt ride with me to-day!" And Scholzke, Ploschke others call him,--heavy-footed rational biped knowing the ground there practically, every yard of it,--did, as appears, attend the King all morning; and do service, that was recognizable long years afterwards. "For always," say the Books, "when the King held review here, Ploschke failed not to make appearance on the field of Pogarell, and get recognition and a gift from his Majesty."

At break of day the ranking and arranging began. Pogarell clock is near striking ten, when the last squadron or battalion quits Pogarell; and the Four Columns, punctiliously correct, are all under way. Two on each side of Ohlau Highway; steadily advancing, with pioneers ahead to clear any obstacle there may be. Few obstacles; here and there a little ditch (where Ploschke's advice may be good, under the sleek of the snow), no fences, smooth wide Plain, nothing you would even call a knoll in it for many miles ahead and around. Mollwitz is some seven miles north from Pogarell; intermediate lie dusty fractions of Villages more than one; two miles or more from Mollwitz we come to Pampitz on our left, the next considerable, if any of them can be counted considerable.

"All these Dorfs, and indeed most German ones," says my Tourist, "are made on one type; an agglomerate of dusty farmyards, with their stalls and barns; all the farmyards huddled together in two rows; a broad negligent road between, seldom mended, never swept except by the elements. Generally there is nothing to be seen, on each hand, but thatched roofs, dead clay walls and rude wooden gates; sometimes a poor public-house, with probable beer in it; never any shop, nowhere any patch of swept pavement, or trim gathering-place for natives of a social gossipy turn: the road lies sleepy, littery, good only for utilitarian purposes. In the middle of the Village stands Church and Churchyard, with probably some gnarled trees around it: Church often larger than you expected; the Churchyard, always fenced with high stone-and-mortar wall, is usually the principal military post of the place. Mollwitz, at the present day, has something of whitewash here and there; one of the farmer people, or more, wearing a civilized prosperous look. The belfry offers you a pleasant view: the roofs and steeples of Brieg, pleasantly visible to eastward; villages dotted about, Laugwitz, Barzdorf, Hermsdorf, clear to your inquiring: and to westward, and to southward, tops of Hill-country in the distance. Westward, twenty miles off, are pleasant Hills; and among them, if you look well, shadowy Town-spires, which you are assured are Strehlen, a place also of interest in Friedrich's History.--Your belfry itself, in Mollwitz, is old, but not unsound; and the big iron clock grunts heavily at your ear, or perhaps bursts out in a too deafening manner, while you study the topographies. Pampitz, too, seems prosperous, in its littery way; the Church is bigger and newer,"--owing to an accident we shall hear of soon;-- "Country all about seems farmed with some industry, but with shallow ploughing; liable to drought. It is very sandy in quality; shorn of umbrage; painfully naked to an English eye." That is the big champaign, coated with two feet of snow, where a great Action is now to go forward.

Neipperg, all this while, is much at his ease on this white resting-day, He is just sitting down to dinner at the Dorfschulze’s (Village Provost, or miniature Mayor of Mollwitz), a composed man; when--rockets or projectiles, and successive anxious sputterings from the steeple-tops of Brieg, are hastily reported: what can it mean? Means little perhaps;--Neipperg sends out a Hussar party to ascertain, and composedly sets himself to dine. In a little while his Hussar party will come galloping back, faster than it went; faster and fewer;--and there will be news for Neipperg during dinner! Better here looking out, though it was a rest-day?--

The truth is, the Prussian advance goes on with punctilious exactitude, by no means rapidly. Colonel Count van Rothenburg,-- the same whom we lately heard of in Paris as a miracle of gambling, --he now here, in a new capacity, is warily leading the Vanguard of Dragoons; warily, with the Four Columns well to rear of him: the Austrian Hussar party came upon Rothenburg, not two miles from Mollwitz; and suddenly drew bridle. Them Rothenburg tumbles to the right-about, and chases;--finds, on advancing, the Austrian Army totally unaware. It is thought, had Rothenburg dashed forward, and sent word to the rearward to dash forward at their swiftest, the Austrian Army might have been cut in pieces here, and never have got together to try battle at all. But Rothenburg had no orders; nay, had orders Not to get into fighting;--nor had Friedrich himself, in this his first Battle, learned that feline or leonine promptitude of spring which he subsequently manifested. Far from it! Indeed this punctilious deliberation, and slow exactitude as on the review-ground, is wonderful and noteworthy at the first start of Friedrich;--the faithful apprentice-hand still rigorous to the rules of the old shop. Ten years hence, twenty years hence, had Friedrich found Neipperg in this condition, Neipperg's account had been soon settled!-- Rothenburg drove back the Hussars, all manner of successive Hussar parties, and kept steadily ahead of the main battle, as he had been bidden.

Pampitz Village being now passed, and in rear of them to left, the Prussian Columns halt for some instants; burst into field-music; take to deploying themselves into line. There is solemn wheeling, shooting out to right and left, done with spotless precision: once in line,--in two lines, "each three men deep," lines many yards apart,--they will advance on Mollwitz; still solemnly, field- music guiding, and banners spread. Which will be a work of time. That the King's frugal field-dinner was shot away, from its camp- table near Pampitz (as Fuchs has heard), is evidently mythical; and even impossible, the Austrians having yet no cannon within miles of him; and being intent on dining comfortably themselves, not on firing at other people's dinners.

Fancy Neipperg's state of mind, busy beginning dinner in the little Schulze's, or Town-Provost's house, when the Hussars dashed in at full gallop, shouting "DER FEIND, The Enemy! All in march there; vanguard this side of Pampitz; killed forty of us!"--Quick, your Plan of Battle, then? Whitherward; How; What? answer or perish! Neipperg was infinitely struck; dropt knife and fork: "Send for Romer, General of the Horse!" Romer did the indispensable: a swift man, not apt to lose head. Romer's battle-plan, I should hope, is already made; or it will fare ill with Neipperg and him. But beat, ye drummers; gallop, ye aides-de-camp as for life! The first thing is to get our Force together; and it lies scattered about in three other Villages besides Mollwitz, miles apart. Neipperg's trumpets clangor, his aides-de-camp gallop: he has his left wing formed, and the other parts in a state of rapid genesis, Horse and Foot pouring in from Laugwitz, Barzdorf, Gruningen, before the Prussians have quite done deploying themselves, and got well within shot of him. Romer, by birth a Saxon gentleman, by all accounts a superior soldier and excellent General of Horse, commands this Austrian left wing, General Goldlein, [(Anonymous) MARIA THERESA (already cited), p. 8 n.] a Swiss veteran of good parts, presiding over the Infantry in that quarter. Neipperg himself, were he once complete, will command the right wing.

Neipperg is to be in two lines, as the Prussians are, with horse on each wing, which is orthodox military order. His length of front, I should guess, must have been something better than two English miles: a sluggish Brook, called of Laugwitz, from the Village of that name which lies some way across, is on his right hand; sluggish, boggy; stagnating towards the Oder in those parts:-- improved farming has, in our time, mostly dried the strip of bog, and made it into coarse meadow, which is rather a relief amid the dry sandy element. Neipperg's right is covered by that. His left rests on the Hamlet of Gruningen, a mile-and-half northeast of Mollwitz;--meant to have rested on Hermsdorf nearly east, but the Prussians have already taken that up. The sun coming more and more round to west of south (for it is now past noon) shines right in Neipperg's face, and is against him: how the wind is, nobody mentions,--probably there was no wind. His regular Cavalry, 8,600, outnumbers twice or more that of the Prussians, not to mention their quality; and he has fewer Infantry, somewhat in proportion;-- the entire force on each side is scarcely above 20,000, the Prussians slightly in majority by count. In field-pieces Neipperg is greatly outnumbered; the Prussians having about threescore, he only eighteen. [Kausler, Atlas der merkwurdigsten Schlachten, p. 232.] And now here ARE the Prussians, close upon our left wing, not yet in contact with the right,--which in fact is not yet got into existence;--thank Heaven they have not come before our left got into existence, as our right (if you knew it) has not yet quite finished doing!--

The Prussians, though so ready for deploying, have had their own difficulties and delays. Between the boggy Brook of Laugwitz on their left, and the Village of Hermsdorf, two miles distant, on which their right wing is to lean, there proves not to be room enough; [ OEuvres de Frederic, ii. 73.] and then, owing to mistake of Schulenburg (our old pipe-clay friend, who commands the right wing of Horse here, and is not up in time), there is too much room. Not room enough, for all the Infantry, we say: the last three Battalions of the front line therefore, the three on the utmost right, wheel round, and stand athwart; EN POTENCE (as soldiers say), or at right angles to the first line; hanging to it like a kind of lid in that part,--between Schulenburg and them,--had Schulenburg come up. Thus are the three battalions got rid of at least; "they cap the First Prussian line rectangularly, like a lid," says my authority,--lid which does not reach to the Second Line by a good way. This accidental arrangement had material effects on the right wing. Unfortunate Schulenburg did at last come up:--had he miscalculated the distances, then? Once on the ground, he will find he does not reach to Hermsdorf after all, and that there is now too much room! What his degree of fault was I know not; Friedrich has long been dissatisfied with these Dragoons of Schulenburg; "good for nothing, I always told you" (at that Skirmish of Baumgarten): and now here is the General himself fallen blundering!--In respect of Horse, the Austrians are more than two to one; to make out our deficiency, the King, imitating something he had read about Gustavus Adolphus, intercalates the Horse- Squadrons, on each wing, with two Battalions of Grenadiers, and SO lengthens them;--"a manoeuvre not likely to be again imitated," he admits.

All these movements and arrangements are effected above a mile from Mollwitz, no enemy yet visible. Once effected, we advance again with music sounding, sixty pieces of artillery well in front,-- steady, steady!--across the floor of snow which is soon beaten smooth enough, the stage, this day, of a great adventure. And now there is the Enemy's left wing, Romer and his Horse; their right wing wider away, and not yet, by a good space, within cannon-range of us. It is towards Two of the afternoon; Schulenburg now on his ground, laments that he will not reach to Hermsdorf;--but it may be dangerous now to attempt repairing that error? At Two of the clock, being now fairly within distance, we salute Romer and the Austrian left, with all our sixty cannon; and the sound of drums and clarinets is drowned in universal artillery thunder. Incessant, for they take (by order) to "swift-shooting," which is almost of the swiftness of musketry in our Prussian practice; and from sixty cannon, going at that rate, we may fancy some effect. The Austrian Horse of the left wing do not like it; all the less as the Austrians, rather short of artillery, have nothing yet to reply with.

No Cavalry can stand long there, getting shivered in that way; in such a noise, were there nothing more. "Are we to stand here like milestones, then, and be all shot without a stroke struck?" "Steady!" answers Romer. But nothing can keep them steady: "To be shot like dogs (WIE HUNDE)! For God's sake (URN GOTTES WILLEN), lead us forward, then, to have a stroke at them!"--in tones ever more plangent, plaintively indignant; growing ungovernable. And Romer can get no orders; Neipperg is on the extreme right, many things still to settle there; and here is the cannon-thunder going, and soon their very musketry will open. And--and there is Schulenburg, for one thing, stretching himself out eastwards (rightwards) to get hold of Hermsdorf; thinking this an opportunity for the manoeuvre. "Forward!" cries Romer; and his thirty Squadrons, like bottled whirlwind now at last let loose, dash upon Schulenburg's poor ten (five of them of Schulenburg's own regiment,--who are turned sideways too, trotting towards Hermsdorf, at the wrong moment,--and dash them into wild ruin. That must have been a charge! That was the beginning of hours of chaos, seemingly irretrievable, in that Prussian right wing.

For the Prussian Horse fly wildly; and it is in vain to rally. The King is among them; has come in hot haste, conjuring and commanding: poor Schulenburg addresses his own regiment, "Oh, shame, shame! shall it be told, then?" rallies his own regiment, and some others; charges fiercely in with them again; gets a sabre- slash across the face,--does not mind the sabre-slash, small bandaging will do;--gets a bullet through the head (or through the heart, it is not said which); [ Helden-Geschichte, i. 899.] and falls down dead; his regiment going to the winds again, and HIS care of it and of other things concluding in this honorable manner. Nothing can rally that right wing; or the more you rally, the worse it fares: they are clearly no match for Romer, these Prussian Horse. They fly along the front of their own First Line of Infantry, they fly between the two Lines; Romer chasing,--till the fire of the Infantry (intolerable to our enemies, and hitting some even of our fugitive friends) repels him. For the notable point in all this was the conduct of the Infantry; and how it stood in these wild vortexes of ruin; impregnable, immovable, as if every man of it were stone; and steadily poured out deluges of fire,--"five Prussian shots for two Austrian:"--such is perfect discipline against imperfect; and the iron ramrod against the wooden.

The intolerable fire repels Romer, when he trenches on the Infantry: however, he captures nine of the Prussian sixty guns; has scattered their Horse to the winds; and charges again and again, hoping to break the Infantry too,--till a bullet kills him, the gallant Romer; and some other has to charge and try. It was thought, had Goldlein with his Austrian Infantry advanced to support Romer at this juncture, the Battle had been gained. Five times, before Romer fell and after, the Austrians charged here; tried the Second Line too; tried once to take Prince Leopold in rear there. But Prince Leopold faced round, gave intolerable fire; on one face as on the other, he, or the Prussian Infantry anywhere, is not to be broken. "Prince Friedrich", one of the Margraves of Schwedt, King's Cousin, whom we did not know before, fell in these wild rallyings and wrestlings; "by a cannon-ball, at the King's hand," not said otherwise where. He had come as Volunteer, few weeks ago, out of Holland, where he was a rising General: he has met his fate here,--and Margraf Karl, his Brother, who also gets wounded, will be a mournful man to-night.

The Prussian Horse, this right wing of it, is a ruined body; boiling in wild disorder, flooding rapidly away to rearward,-- which is the safest direction to retreat upon. They "sweep away the King's person with them," say some cautious people; others say, what is the fact, that Schwerin entreated, and as it were commanded, the King to go; the Battle being, to all appearance, irretrievable. Go he did, with small escort, and on a long ride,-- to Oppeln, a Prussian post, thirty-five miles rearward, where there is a Bridge over the Oder and a safe country beyond. So much is indubitable; and that he despatched an Aide-de-camp to gallop into Brandenburg, and tell the Old Dessauer, "Bestir yourself! Here all seems lost!"-- and vanished from the Field, doubtless in very desperate humor. Upon which the extraneous world has babbled a good deal, "Cowardice! Wanted courage: Haha!" in its usual foolish way; not worth answer from him or from us. Friedrich's demeanor, in that disaster of his right wing, was furious despair rather; and neither Schulenburg nor Margraf Friedrich, nor any of the captains, killed or left living, was supposed to have sinned by "cowardice" in a visible degree!--

Indisputable it is, though there is deep mystery upon it, the King vanishes from Mollwitz Field at this point for sixteen hours, into the regions of Myth, "into Fairyland," as would once have been said; but reappears unharmed in to-morrow's daylight: at which time, not sooner, readers shall hear what little is to be said of this obscure and much-disfigured small affair. For the present we hasten back to Mollwitz,--where the murderous thunder rages unabated all this while; the very noise of it alarming mankind for thirty miles round. At Breslau, which is thirty good miles off, horrible dull grumble was heard from the southern quarter ("still better, if you put a staff in the ground, and set your ear to it"); and from the steeple-tops, there was dim cloudland of powder-smoke discernible in the horizon there. "At Liegnitz," which is twice the distance, "the earth sensibly shook," [ Helden-Geschichte; and Jordan's Letter, infra.]--at least the air did, and the nerves of men.

"Had Goldlein but advanced with his Foot, in support of gallant Romer!" say the Austrian Books. But Goldlein did not advance; nor is it certain he would have found advantage in so doing: Goldlein, where he stands, has difficulty enough to hold his own. For the notable circumstance, miraculous to military men, still is, How the Prussian Foot (men who had never been in fire, but whom Friedrich Wilhelm had drilled for twenty years) stand their ground, in this distraction of the Horse. Not even the two outlying Grenadier Battalions will give way: those poor intercalated Grenadiers, when their Horse fled on the right and on the left, they stand there, like a fixed stone-dam in that wild whirlpool of ruin. They fix bayonets, "bring their two field-pieces to flank" (Winterfeld was Captain there), and, from small arms and big, deliver such a fire as was very unexpected. Nothing to be made of Winterfeld and them. They invincibly hurl back charge after charge; and, with dogged steadiness, manoeuvre themselves into the general Line again; or into contact with the three superfluous Battalions, arranged EN POTENCE, whom we heard of. Those three, ranked athwart in this right wing ("like a lid," between First Line and second), maintained themselves in like impregnable fashion,--Winterfeld commanding;--and proved unexpectedly, thinks Friedrich, the saving of the whole. For they also stood their ground immovable, like rocks; steadily spouting fire-torrents. Five successive charges storm upon them, fruitless: "Steady, MEINE KINDER; fix bayonets, handle ramrods! There is the Horse-deluge thundering in upon you; reserve your fire, till you see the whites of their eyes, and get the word; then give it them, and again give it them: see whether any man or any horse can stand it!"

Neipperg, soon after Romer fell, had ordered Goldlein forward: Goldlein with his Infantry did advance, gallantly enough; but to no purpose. Goldlein was soon shot dead; and his Infantry had to fall back again, ineffectual or worse. Iron ramrods against wooden; five shots to two: what is there but falling back? Neipperg sent fresh Horse from his right wing, with Berlichingen, a new famed General of Horse; Neipperg is furiously bent to improve his advantage, to break those Prussians, who are mere musketeers left bare, and thinks that will settle the account: but it could in no wise be done. The Austrian Horse, after their fifth trial, renounce charging; fairly refuse to charge any more; and withdraw dispirited out of ball-range, or in search of things not impracticable. The Hussar part of them did something of plunder to rearward;--and, besides poor Maupertuis's adventure (of which by and by), and an attempt on the Prussian baggage and knapsacks, which proved to be "too well guarded,"--"burnt the Church of Pampitz," as some small consolation. The Prussians had stript their knapsacks, and left them in Pampitz: the Austrians, it was noticed, stript theirs in the Field; built walls of them, and fired behind,the same, in a kneeling, more or less protected posture,--which did not avail them much.

In fact, the Austrian Infantry too, all Austrians, hour after hour, are getting wearier of it: neither Infantry nor Cavalry can stand being riddled by swift shot in that manner. In spite of their knapsack walls, various regiments have shrunk out of ball-range; and several cannot, by any persuasion, be got to come into it again. Others, who do reluctantly advance,--see what a figure they make; man after man edging away as he can, so that the regiment "stands forty to eighty men deep, with lanes through it every two or three yards;" permeable everywhere to Cavalry, if we had them; and turning nothing to the Enemy but color-sergeants and bare poles of a regiment! And Romer is dead, and Goldlein of the Infantry is dead. And on their right wing, skirted by that marshy Brook of Laugwitz,--Austrian right wing had been weakened by detachments, when Berlichingen rode off to succeed Romer,--the Austrians are suffering: Posadowsky's Horse (among whom is Rothenburg, once vanguard), strengthened by remnants who have rallied here, are at last prospering, after reverses. And the Prussian fire of small arms, at such rate, has lasted now for five hours. The Austrian Army, becoming instead of a web a mere series of flying tatters, forming into stripes or lanes in the way we see, appears to have had about enough.

These symptoms are not hidden from Schwerin. His own ammunition, too, he knows is running scarce, and fighters here and there are searching the slain for cartridges:--Schwerin closes his ranks, trims and tightens himself a little; breaks forth into universal field-music, and with banners spread, starts in mass wholly, "Forwards!" Forwards towards these Austrians and the setting sun.

An intelligent Austrian Officer, writing next week from Neisse, [ Feldzuge der Preussen (above cited), i. 38.]' confesses he never saw anything more beautiful. "I can well say, I never in my life saw anything more beautiful. They marched with the greatest steadiness, arrow-straight, and their front like a line (SCHNURGLEICH), as if they had been upon parade. The glitter of their clear arms shone strangely in the setting sun, and the fire from them went on no otherwise than a continued peal of thunder." Grand picture indeed; but not to be enjoyed as a Work of Art, for it is coming upon us! "The spirits of our Army sank altogether", continues he; "the Foot plainly giving way, Horse refusing to come forward, all things wavering towards dissolution:"--so that Neipperg, to avoid worse, gives the word to go;--and they roll off at double-quick time, through Mollwitz, over Laugwitz Bridge and Brook, towards Grotkau by what routes they can. The sun is just sunk; a quarter to eight, says the intelligent Austrian Officer,--while the Austrian Army, much to its amazement, tumbles forth in this bad fashion.

They had lost nine of their own cannon, and all of those Prussian nine which they once had, except one: eight cannon MINUS, in all. Prisoners of them were few, and none of much mark: two Field- marshals, Romer and Goldlein, lie among the dead; four more of that rank are wounded. Four standards too are gone; certain kettle-drums and the like trophies, not in great number. Lieutenant-General Browne was of these retreating Austrians; a little fact worth noting: of his actions this day, or of his thoughts (which latter surely must have been considerable), no hint anywhere. The Austrians were not much chased; though they might have been,-- fresh Cavalry (two Ohlau regiments, drawn hither by the sound [Interesting correct account of their movements and adventures this day and some previous days, in Nicolai, Anekdoten, ii. 142-148.]) having hung about to rear of them, for some time past; unable to get into the Fight, or to do any good till now. Schwerin, they say, though he had two wounds, was for pursuing vigorously: but Leopold of Anhalt over-persuaded him; urged the darkness, the uncertainty. Berlichingen, with their own Horse, still partly covered their rear; and the Prussians, Ohlauers included, were but weak in that branch of the service. Pursuit lasted little more than two miles, and was never hot. The loss of men, on both sides, was not far from equal, and rather in favor of the Austrian side:--Austrians counted in killed, wounded and missing, 4,410 men; Prussians 4,613; [Orlich, i. 108; Kansler, p. 235, correct; Helden-Geschichte, i. 895, incorrect.]--but the Prussians bivouacked on the ground, or quartered in these Villages, with victory to crown them, and the thought that their hard day's work had been well done. Besides Margraf Friedrich, Volunteer from Holland, there lay among the slain Colonel Count von Finkenstein (Old Tutor's Son), King's friend from boyhood, and much loved. He was of the six whom we saw consulting at the door at Reinsberg, during a certain ague-fit; and he now rests silent here, while the matter has only come thus far.

Such was Mollwitz, the first Battle for Silesia; which had to cost many Battles first and last. Silesia will be gained, we can expect, by fighting of this kind in an honest cause. But here is something already gained, which is considerable, and about which there is no doubt. A new Military Power, it would appear, has come upon the scene; the Gazetteer-and-Diplomatic world will have to make itself familiar with a name not much heard of hitherto among the Nations. "A Nation which can fight," think the Gazetteers; "fight almost as the very Swedes did; and is led on by its King too,--who may prove, in his way, a very Charles XII., or small Macedonia's Madman, for aught one knows?" In which latter branch of their prognostic the Gazetteers were much out.--

The Fame of this Battle, which is now so sunk out of memory, was great in Europe; and struck, like a huge war-gong, with long resonance, through the general ear. M. de Voltaire had run across to Lille in those Spring days: there is a good Troop of Players in Lille; a Niece, Madame Denis, wife of some Military Commissariat Denis, important in those parts, can lodge the divine Emilie and me;--and one could at last see MAHOMET, after five years of struggling, get upon the boards, if not yet in Paris by a great way, yet in Lille, which is something. MAHOMET is getting upon the boards on those terms; and has proceeded, not amiss, through an Act or two, when a Note from the King of Prussia was handed to Voltaire, announcing the victory of Mollwitz. Which delightful Note Voltaire stopt the performance till he read to the Audience: "Bravissimo!" answered the Audience. "You will see," said M. de Voltaire to the friends about him, "this Piece at Mollwitz will make mine succeed:" which proved to be the fact. [Voltaire, OEuvres (Vie Privee), ii. 74.] For the French are Anti-Austrian; and smell great things in the wind. "That man is mad, your Most Christian Majesty?" "Not quite; or at any rate not mad only!" think Louis and his Belleisles now.

Dimly poring in those old Books, and squeezing one's way into face-to-face view of the extinct Time, we begin to notice what a clangorous rumor was in Mollwitz to the then generation of mankind;--betokening many things; universal European War, as the first thing. Which duly came to pass; as did, at a slower rate, the ulterior thing, not yet so apparent, that indeed a new hour had struck on the Time Horologe, that a New Epoch had risen. Yes, my friends. New Charles XII. or not, here truly has a new Man and King come upon the scene: capable perhaps of doing something? Slumberous Europe, rotting amid its blind pedantries, its lazy hypocrisies, conscious and unconscious: this man is capable of shaking it a little out of its stupid refuges of lies, and ignominious wrappages and bed-clothes, which will be its grave- clothes otherwise; and of intimating to it, afar off, that there is still a Veracity in Things, and a Mendacity in Sham-Things, and that the difference of the two is infinitely more considerable than was supposed.

This Mollwitz is a most deliberate, regulated, ponderously impressive (GRAVITATISCH) Feat of Arms, as the reader sees; done all by Regulation methods, with orthodox exactitude; in a slow, weighty, almost pedantic, but highly irrefragable manner. It is the triumph of Prussian Discipline; of military orthodoxy well put in practice: the honest outcome of good natural stuff in those Brandenburgers, and of the supreme virtues of Drill. Neipperg and his Austrians had much despised Prussian soldiering: "Keep our soup hot," cried they, on running out this day to rank themselves; "hot a little, till we drive these fellows to the Devil!" That was their opinion, about noon this day: but that is an opinion they have renounced for all remaining days and years.--It is a Victory due properly to Friedrich Wilhelm and the Old Dessauer, who are far away from it. Friedrich Wilhelm, though dead, fights here, and the others only do his bidding on this occasion. His Son, as yet, adds nothing of his own; though he will ever henceforth begin largely adding,--right careful withal to lose nothing, for the Friedrich Wilhelm contribution is invaluable, and the basis of everything;-- but it is curious to see in what contrast this first Battle of Friedrich's is with his latter and last ones.

Considering the Battle of Mollwitz, and then, in contrast, the intricate Pragmatic Sanction, and what their consequences were and their antecedents, it is curious once more! This, then, is what the Pragmatic Sanction has come to? Twenty years of world-wide diplomacy, cunningly devised spider-threads overnetting all the world, have issued here. Your Congresses of Cambray, of Soissons, your Grumkow-Seckendorf Machiavelisms, all these might as well have lain in their bed. Real Pragmatic Sanction would have been, A well- trained Army and your Treasury full. Your Treasury is empty (nothing in it but those foolish 200,000 English guineas, and the passionate cry for more): and your Army is not trained as this Prussian one; cannot keep its ground against this one. Of all those long-headed Potentates, simple Friedrich Wilhelm, son of Nature, who had the honesty to do what Nature taught him, has come out, gainer. You all laughed at him as a fool: do you begin to see now who was wise, who fool? He has an Army that "advances on you with glittering musketry, steady as on the parade-ground, and pours out fire like one continuous thunder-peal;" so that, strange as it seems, you find there will actually be nothing for you but--taking to your heels, shall we say?--rolling off with despatch, as second- best! These things are of singular omen. Here stands one that will avenge Friedrich Wilhelm,--if Friedrich Wilhelm were not already sufficiently avenged by the mere verdict of facts, which is palpably coming out, as Time peels the wiggeries away from them more and more. Mollwitz and such places are full of veracity; and no head is so thick as to resist conviction in that kind.


Of the King's Flight, or sudden disappearance into Fairyland, during this first Battle, the King himself, who alone could have told us fully, maintained always rigorous silence, and nowhere drops the least hint. So that the small fact has come down to us involved in a great bulk of fabulous cobwebs, mostly of an ill- natured character, set agoing by Voltaire, Valori and others {which fabulous process, in the good-natured form, still continues itself); and, except for Nicolai's good industry (in his ANEKDOTEN- Book), we should have difficulty even in guessing, not to say understanding, as is now partly possible. The few real particulars --and those do verify themselves, and hang perfectly together, when the big globe of fable is burnt off from them--are to the following effect.

"Battle lost," said Schwerin: "but what is the loss of a Battle to that of your Majesty's own Person? For Heaven's sake, go; get across the Oder; be you safe, till this decide itself!" That was reasonable counsel. If defeated, Schwerin can hope to retreat upon Ohlau, upon Breslau, and save the Magazines. This side the Oder, all will be movements, a whirlpool of Hussars; but beyond the Oder, all is quiet, open. To Ohlau, to Glogau, nay home to Brandenburg and the Old Dessauer with his Camp at Gottin, the road is free, by the other side of the Oder.--Schwerin and Prince Leopold urging him, the King did ride away; at what hour, with what suite, or with what adventures (not mostly fabulous) is not known:--but it was towards Lowen, fifteen miles off (where he crossed Neisse River, the other day); and thence towards Oppeln, on the Oder, eighteen miles farther; and the pace was swift. Leopold, on reflection, ordered off a Squadron of Gens-d'Armes to overtake his Majesty, at Lowen or sooner; which they never did. Passing Pampitz, the King threw Fredersdorf a word, who was among the baggage there: "To Oppeln; bring the Purse, the Privy Writings!" Which Fredersdorf, and the Clerks (and another Herr, who became Nicolai's Father-in-law in after years) did; and joined the King at Lowen; but I hope stopped there.

The King's suite was small, names not given; but by the time he got to Lowen, being joined by cavalry fugitives and the like, it had got to be seventy persons: too many for the King. He selected what was his of them; ordered the gates to be shut behind him on all others, and again rode away. The Leopold Squadron of Gens-d'Armes did not arrive till after his departure; and having here lost trace of him, called halt, and billeted for the night. The King speeds silently to Oppeln on his excellent bay horse, the worse-mounted gradually giving in. At Oppeln is a Bridge over the Oder, a free Country beyond: Regiment La Motte lay, and as the King thinks, still lies in Oppeln;--but in that he is mistaken. Regiment La Motte is with the baggage at Pampitz, all this day; and a wandering Hussar Party, some sixty Austrians, have taken possession of Oppeln. The King, and the few who had not yet broken down, arrive at the Gate of Oppeln, late, under cloud of night: "Who goes?" cried the sentry from within. "Prussians! A Prussian Courier!" answer they;--and are fired upon through the gratings; and immediately draw back, and vanish unhurt into Night again. "Had those Hussars only let him in!" said Austria afterwards: but they had not such luck. It was at this point, according to Valori, that the King burst forth into audible ejaculations of a lamentable nature. There is no getting over, then, even to Brandenburg, and in an insolvent condition. Not open insolvency and bankrupt disgrace; no, ruin, and an Austrian jail, is the one outlook. "O MON DIEU, O God, it is too much (C'EN EST TROP)!" with other the like snatches of lamentation; [Valori, i. 104.] which are not inconceivable in a young man, sleepless for the third night, in these circumstances; but which Valori knows nothing of, except by malicious rumor from the valet class,--who have misinformed Valori about several other points.

The King riding diligently, with or without ejaculations, back towards Lowen, comes at an early hour to the Mill of Hilbersdorf, within a mile-and-half of that place. He alights at the Mill; sends one of his attendants, almost the only one now left, to inquire what is in Lowen. The answer, we know, is: "A squadron of Gens-d'Armes there; furthermore, a Prussian Adjutant come to say, Victory at Mollwitz!" Upon which the King mounts again;--issues into daylight, and concludes these mythical adventures. That "in Lowen, in the shop at the corner of the Market-place, Widow Panzern, subsequently Wife Something-else, made his Majesty a cup of coffee, and served a roast fowl along with it," cannot but be welcome news, if true; and that his Majesty got to Mollwitz again before dark that same "day," [Fuchs, p. 11.] is liable to no controversy.

In this way was Friedrich snatched by Morgante into Fairyland, carried by Diana to the top of Pindus (or even by Proserpine to Tartarus, through a bad sixteen hours), till the Battle whirlwind subsided. Friendly imaginative spirits would, in the antique time, have so construed it: but these moderns were malicious-valetish, not friendly; and wrapped the matter in mere stupid worlds of cobweb, which require burning. Friedrich himself was stone-silent on this matter, all his life after; but is understood never quite to have pardoned Schwerin for the ill-luck of giving him such advice. [Nicolai, ii. 180-195 (the one true account); Laveaux, i. 194; Valori, i. 104; &c., &c. (the myth in various stages). Most distractedly mythical of all, with the truth clear before it, is the latest version, just come out, in Was sich die Schlesier vom alten Fritz erzahlen (Brieg, 1860), pp. 113-125.]

Friedrich's adventure is not the only one of that kind at Mollwitz; there is another equally indubitable,--which will remain obscure, half-mythical to the end of the world. The truth is, that Right Wing of the Prussian Army was fallen chaotic, ruined; and no man, not even one who had seen it, can give account of what went on there. The sage Maupertuis, for example, had climbed some tree or place of impregnability ("tree" Voltaire calls it, though that is hardly probable), hoping to see the Battle there. And he did see it, much too clearly at last! In such a tide of charging and chasing, on that Right Wing and round all the Field in the Prussian rear; in such wide bickering and boiling of Horse-currents,--which fling out, round all the Prussian rear quarters, such a spray of Austrian Hussars for one element,--Maupertuis, I have no doubt, wishes much he were at home, doing his sines and tangents. An Austrian Hussar-party gets sight of him, on his tree or other standpoint (Voltaire says elsewhere he was mounted on an ass, the malicious spirit!)--too certain, the Austrian Hussars got sight of him: his purse, gold watch, all he has of movable is given frankly; all will not do. There are frills about the man, fine laces, cloth; a goodish yellow wig on him, for one thing:--their Slavonic dialect, too fatally intelligible by the pantomime accompanying it, forces sage Maupertuis from his tree or standpoint; the big red face flurried into scarlet, I can fancy; or scarlet and ashy-white mixed; and--Let us draw a veil over it! He is next seen shirtless, the once very haughty, blustery, and now much-humiliated man; still conscious of supreme acumen, insight and pure science; and, though an Austrian prisoner and a monster of rags, struggling to believe that he is a genius and the Trismegistus of mankind. What a pickle! The sage Maupertuis, as was natural, keeps passionately asking, of gods and men, for an Officer with some tincture of philosophy, or even who could speak French. Such Officer is at last found; humanely advances him money, a shirt and suit of clothes; but can in nowise dispense with his going to Vienna as prisoner. Thither he went accordingly; still in a mythical condition. Of Voltaire's laughing, there is no end; and he changes the myth from time to time, on new rumors coming; and there is no truth to be had from him. [Voltaire, OEuvres (Vie Prive), ii. 33-34; and see his LETTERS for some were after the event.]

This much is certain: at Vienna, Maupertuis, prisoner on parole, glided about for some time in deep eclipse, till the Newspapers began babbling of him. He confessed then that he was Maupertuis, Flattener of the Earth; but for the rest, "told rather a blind story about himself," says Robinson; spoke as if he had been of the King's suite, "riding with the King," when that Hussar accident befell;--rather a blind story, true story being too sad. The Vienna Sovereignties, in the turn things had taken, were extremely kind; Grand-Duke Franz handsomely pulled out his own watch, hearing what road the Maupertuis one had gone; dismissed the Maupertuis, with that and other gifts, home:--to Brittany (not to Prussia), till times calmed for engrafting the Sciences. [ Helden- Geschichte, i. 902; Robinson's Despatch (Vienna, 22d April, 1741, n.s.); Voltaire, ubi supra.]

On Wednesday, Friedrich writes this Note to his Sister; the first utterance we have from him since those wild roamings about Oppeln and Hilbersdorf Mill:--

KING TO WILHELMINA (at Baireuth; two days after Mollwitz).

"OHLAU, 12th April, 1741.

"MY DEAREST SISTER,--I have the satisfaction to inform you that we have yesterday [day before yesterday; but some of us have only had one sleep!] totally beaten the Austrians. They have lost more than 5,000 men, killed, wounded and prisoners. We have lost Prince Friedrich, Brother of Margraf Karl; General Schulenburg, Wartensleben of the Carabineers, and many other Officers. Our troops did miracles; and the result shows as much. It was one of the rudest Battles fought within memory of man.

"I am sure you will take part in this happiness; and that you will not doubt of the tenderness with which I am, my dearest Sister,-- Yours wholly,
[ OEuvres, xxvii. i. 101.]

And on the same day there comes, from Breslau, Jordan's Answer to the late anxious little Note from Pogarell; anxieties now gone, and smoky misery changed into splendor of flame:

JORDAN TO THE KING (finds him at Ohlau).

"BRESLAU, 11th April, 1741.
"SIRE,--Yesterday I was in terrible alarms. The sound of the cannon heard, the smoke of powder visible from the steeple-tops here; all led us to suspect that there was a Battle going on. Glorious confirmation of it this morning! Nothing but rejoicing among all the Protestant inhabitants; who had begun to be in apprehension, from the rumors which the other party took pleasure in spreading. Persons who were in the Battle cannot enough celebrate the coolness and bravery of your Majesty. For myself, I am at the overflowing point. I have run about all day, announcing this glorious news to the Berliners who are here. In my life I have never felt a more perfect satisfaction.

"M. de Camas is here, very ill for the last two days; attack of fever--the Doctor hopes to bring him through,"--which proved beyond the Doctor: the good Camas died here three days hence (age sixty- three); an excellent German-Frenchman, of much sense, dignity and honesty; familiar to Friedrich from infancy onwards, and no doubt regretted by him as deserved. The Widow Camas, a fine old Lady, German by birth, will again come in view. Jordan continues:--

"One finds, at the corner of every street, an orator of the Plebs celebrating the warlike feats of your Majesty's troops. I have often, in my idleness, assisted at these discourses: not artistic eloquence, it must be owned, but spurting rude from the heart. ..."

Jordan adds in his next Note: "This morning (14th) I quitted M. de Camas; who, it is thought, cannot last the day. I have hardly left him during his illness:" [ OEuvres de Frederic, xvii. 99.]--and so let that scene close.

Neipperg, meanwhile, had fallen back on Neisse; taken up a strong encampment in that neighborhood; he lies thereabouts all summer; stretched out, as it were, in a kind of vigilant dog-sleep on the threshold, keeping watch over Neisse, and tries fighting no more at this time, or indeed ever after, to speak of. And always, I think, with disadvantage, when he does try a little. He had been Grand- Duke Franz's Tutor in War-matters; had got into trouble at Belgrade once before, and was almost hanged by the Turks. George II. had occasionally the benefit of him, in coming years. Be not too severe on the poor man, as the Vienna public was; he had some faculty, though not enough. "Governor of Luxemburg," before long: there, for most part, let him peacefully drill, and spend the remainder of his poor life. Friedrich says, neither Neipperg nor himself, at this time, knew the least of War; and that it would be hard to settle which of them made the more blunders in their Silesian tussle.

Friedrich, in about three weeks hence, was fully ready for opening trenches upon Brieg; did open trenches, accordingly, by moonlight, in a grand nocturnal manner (as readers shall see anon); and, by vigorous cannonading,--Marechal de Belleisle having come, by this time, to enjoy the fine spectacle,--soon got possession of Brieg, and held it thenceforth. Neisse now alone remained, with Neipperg vigilantly stretched upon the threshold of it. But the Marechal de Belleisle, we say, had come; that was the weighty circumstance. And before Neisse can be thought of, there is a whole Europe, bickering aloft into conflict; embattling itself from end to end, in sequel of Mollwitz Battle; and such a preliminary sea of negotiating, diplomatic finessing, pulse-feeling, projecting and palavering, with Friedrich for centre all summer, as--as I wish readers could imagine without my speaking of it farther! But they cannot.

Previous Next

Terms Defined

Referenced Works