Frederick the Great and His Family

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter XIV. The Battle of Leuthen.

Early the next morning the king left his tent. The generals were anxiously awaiting him. His countenance glowed with energy and determination, and his brilliant eyes flashed with a sparkling light. Inspired by the appearance of their hero, the clouded brows of the assembled generals became clearer. They felt that his lofty brow was illumined by genius, and that the laurels which crowned it could never fade. They were now confident, courageous, ready for the battle, and, although they had at first disapproved of the king’s plan of attacking the enemy who had twice overcome them, now that he was in their midst they felt secure of success.

Spies reported that the Austrian army had left their camp at sunrise and advanced toward Leuthen; they spoke much and loudly of the strength of the enemy, and of the eagerness of the soldiers to fall upon the weak Prussian army.

At a sign from the king, Seidlitz approached him, and informed him of the latest rumors.

"It is a fearful army we are to attack," said Seidlitz; "more than twice our number."

"I am aware of the strength of the enemy," said the king, quietly, "but nothing is left for me but victory or death. Were they stationed upon the church-tower of Breslau I would attack them."

Then approaching the other generals, he continued in a loud voice:

"You are aware, gentlemen, that Prince Charles, of Lothringen, succeeded in taking Schweidnitz, defeating the Duke of Bevern, and has made himself master of Breslau, while I was protecting Berlin from the French army. The capital of Silesia, and all the munitions of war stowed there, have been lost. All these circumstances are calculated to distress me deeply, had I not a boundless confidence in your courage, your resolution, and your devoted love to your country. There is, I think, not one among us who has not been distinguished for some great, some noble deed. I feel assured that your courage will not now fail in this hour of direst need. I would feel as if I had accomplished nothing were I to leave Silesia in the possession of the Austrians. Against all acknowledged rules of war, I am determined to attack the army of Charles of Lothringen, though it is three times as strong as my own. Notwithstanding the number of the enemy, or its advantageous position, I feel confident of success. This step must be taken, or all is lost! We must defeat the Austrians, or fall beneath their batteries! This is my opinion, and thus I shall act. Make my determination known to every officer. Acquaint the soldiers with the events that will soon occur—tell them that I require unconditional obedience! Remember that you are Prussians!—do not show yourselves unworthy of the name! But should there be any among you who fear to share these dangers with us, they can leave at once, and shall not be reproached by me."

The king ceased speaking, and looked inquiringly at his listeners. Upon every countenance he read determination, courage, and inspiration, but here and there were some whose brows became clouded at the king’s last suggestion, and tears were sparkling in old General Rohr’s eyes. The king pressed the general’s hand almost tenderly.

"Ah, my dear friend," said he, "I did not suspect you. But I again say, that if any amongst you wishes leave of absence, he shall have it."

Profound quiet followed these words. No one approached the king—no sound disturbed the solemn stillness. At a distance, the loud shouts and hurrahs of the soldiers, preparing for battle, could be heard. The king’s countenance became clear, and he continued with enthusiasm:

"I knew beforehand that none of you would leave me. I counted upon your assistance; with it, I shall be victorious. Should I fall in this battle, you must look to your country for reward; and now, away to the camp, and repeat to your men what I have said to you. Farewell, gentlemen, before long we will either have defeated the enemy, or we will see one another no more."

And now there arose from the generals and officers loud, joyous shouts.

"We will conquer or die!" cried Seidlitz, whose daring, youthful countenance sparkled with delight. "We will conquer or die!" was repeated by all.

At last the brave words reached the camp, and were re-echoed by thirty thousand lusty throats. There was universal joy. Old grayheaded warriors, who had followed the king into many battles, who had conquered repeatedly with him, shook hands with and encouraged each other, and warned the younger soldiers to be brave and fearless.

Resting upon his horse, the king had been a joyful witness to all this enthusiasm. At this moment, a troop of soldiers, numbering about fifty, approached him. The commanding officer was greeted with a kindly smile.

"You are Lieutenant von Frankenberg?" said the king. And as the lieutenant bowed in answer, he continued: "General Kleist has spoken of you as being a brave and trustworthy officer. I have therefore a strange commission for you. Listen well! do not lose a word of what I say. Come nearer. And now," said the king, in a low voice, "be attentive. In the approaching battle, I will have to expose myself more than usual; you and your fifty men shall guard me. You must watch over me, and be careful that I fall not into the hands of the enemy. Should I fall, cover my body with your mantle, and carry me to the wagon, which shall be stationed behind the first battalion. Leave me there, and tell no one of what has occurred. The battle must continue—the enemy must be defeated."

When the king had thus made his testament, he dismissed the lieutenant, and advanced toward his body-guard.

"Good-morning!" cried the king, cheerfully.

"Good-morning, father!" was the universal answer. Then the old graybeards, standing beside the king, said again:

"Good-morning, father! it is very cold to-day."

"It will be warm enough before the day is over, boys!" said the king. "There is much to be done. Be brave, my children, and I will care for you as a father."

An old soldier, with silver hair, and the scars of many wounds upon his face, approached the king.

"Your majesty," said he, in an earnest voice, "if we are crippled what will become of us?"

"You shall be taken care of," said the king.

"Will your majesty give me your hand upon this promise?"

This question was followed by deep silence. All present were gazing anxiously at the king and the old guard. The king advanced, and laid his hand in that of the old soldier.

"I swear, that any of you who are crippled, shall be taken care of."

The old warrior turned with tearful eyes to his comrades.

"Well," said he, "you hear him? he is and will continue to be the King of Prussia and our father. The one who deserts is a rascal."

"Long live our Fritz!" and throughout the whole camp resounded the cry—"Long live our Fritz! Long live our king!"

"Onward! onward!" was the cry, for at the end of the plain the enemy could be seen approaching.

"Forward!" cried the soldiers, falling one by one into their places, as the king, followed by Lieutenant Frankenberg and his men, galloped past them.

A turn in the road showed the Prussians the enormous size of the enemy’s army. Silence prevailed for a few moments. Suddenly, here and there a voice could be heard singing a battle-hymn, and soon, accompanied by the band, the whole army was breathing out in song an earnest prayer to God.

A guard, approaching the king, said:

"Is it your majesty’s desire that the soldiers should cease singing?"

The king shook his head angrily.

"No!" said he, "let them alone. With such an army, God can but give me victory."

Nearer and nearer came the enemy, covering the plain with their numbers, and gazing with amazement at the little army that dared to oppose them. By the Austrian generals, smiling so contemptuously upon their weak opponents, one thing had been forgotten. The Austrians, confident of success, were not in the least enthusiastic; the Prussians, aware of their danger, and inspired by love for their king, had nerved themselves to the contest. The armies now stood before each other in battle array. The king was at the front, the generals were flying here and there, delivering their orders. In obedience to these orders, the army suddenly changed its position, and so strange, so unsuspected was the change, that General Daun, turning to the Prince Lothringen, said:

"The Prussians are retreating! we will not attack them."

Certain of this fact, they were off their guard, and disorder reigned in their camp. This security was suddenly changed to terror. They saw the Prussians rapidly approaching, threatening at once both wings of their army. Messenger upon messenger was sent, imploring help from General Daun and Charles of Lothringen. The Prussians were upon them, felling them to the earth, regardless of danger regardless of the numerous cannon which were playing upon them. Daun, with a part of his command, hurried to the aid of General Luchesi, but he was too late; Luchesi had fallen, and terror and disorder were rapidly spreading in the right wing, while from the left, Nadasky had already dispatched ten messengers, imploring assistance from Charles of Lothringen. In doubt as to which most needed help, he at last determined upon the right wing, whose ranks were thinning rapidly; he sent them aid, and took no notice of Nadasky’s messengers. And now the Prussians fell upon the left wing of the Austrians. This attack was made with fury, and the Austrians retreated in wild disorder. It was in vain that other regiments came to their aid; they had no time to arrange themselves before they were forced back. They stumbled upon one another, the flying overtaking and trampling upon the flying. Again and again the imperial guards endeavored to place themselves in line of battle; they were at once overpowered by the Prussian cavalry, who, intoxicated with victory, threw themselves upon them with demoniac strength. Yes, intoxicated—mad with victory, were these Prussians. With perfect indifference they saw their friends, their comrades, fall beside them; they did not mourn over them, but revenged their death tenfold upon the enemy. Those even who fell were inspired by enthusiasm and courage. Forgetful of their wounds, of their torn and broken limbs, they gazed with joy and pride at their comrades, joining in their shouts and hurrahs, until death sealed their lips.

A Prussian grenadier, whose left leg had been shot off in the early part of the battle, raised himself from the ground: using his gun as a crutch, he dragged himself to a spot which the army had to pass, and cried to the comrades who were looking pityingly upon his bleeding limb: "Fight like brave Prussians, brothers! Conquer or die for your king!"

Another grenadier, who had lost both legs, lay upon the ground weltering in his blood, quietly smoking his pipe. An Austrian general galloping by held in his horse and looked in amazement at the soldier. "How is it possible, comrade," said he, "that in your fearful condition you can smoke? Death is near to you."

Taking the pipe from his mouth, the grenadier answered with white, trembling lips: "Well, and what of it? Do I not die for my king?"

Where the danger was the greatest, there was the king encouraging his soldiers. When a column was seen to reel, there was Frederick in their midst inspiring new courage by his presence. The king was the soul of his army, and as his soul was sans peur et sans reproche, the army was victorious. Napoleon, speaking of this battle, says: "Cette bataille de Leuthen est propre a immortaliser le caractere moral de Frederic, et met a jour ses grands talents militaires." And somewhat later, he says: "Cette bataille etait un chef d’oeuvre de mouvements, de manoeuvres, et de resolution, seul elle suffirait pour immortaliser Frederic, et lui donne un rang parmi les plus grands generaux!"

The victory was gained. The defeated Austrians fled in haste, leaving a hundred cannon, fifty banners, and more than twenty thousand prisoners in the hands of the Prussians; while upon the battle-field six thousand of their dead and wounded were lying, with but two thousand dead and wounded Prussians. The victory belonged to Prussia. They had all distinguished themselves; the king and every common soldier had done his duty. Frederick, accompanied by his staff, to which Lieutenant Frankenberg and his fifty men did not now belong, passed the bloody, smoking battle-field. His countenance was sparkling with joy—his eyes shone like stars. He seemed looking for some one to whom to open his grateful heart.

He who had given most assistance in the battle was Prince Moritz von Dessau, whom at the battle of Collin the king had threatened with his sword, and with whom he had ever since been angry because his prophecy proved true. But there was no anger now in the king’s heart; and as he had, in the presence of all his staff, threatened the prince, he wished also in their presence to thank and reward him. The prince was at a slight distance from him, so busily engaged in giving orders that he did not perceive the king until he was quite close to him.

"I congratulate you upon this victory," said the king, in a loud voice—"I congratulate you, field-marshal."

The prince bowed in a silent, absent manner, and continued to give his orders.

The king, raising his voice, said: "Do you not hear, field-marshal? I congratulate you!"

The prince looked hastily at the king. "How? Your majesty," said he, doubtfully, "has appointed me—"

"My field-marshal," said the king, interrupting him. "And well have you deserved this promotion; you have assisted me in this battle as I have never before been assisted." He grasped the prince’s hand and pressed it tenderly, and there were tears of emotion not only in the eyes of the new field-marshal, but also in those of the king.

A fearful day’s work was finished—how fearful, could be seen by the wounded, the dying lying pell-mell upon the battle-field amidst the dead, too exhausted to move. But the day had passed. The cries and shouts of the flying enemy had now ceased—the victory, the battlefield, belonged to the Prussians. What was now most needed by them was an hour’s rest. Above the bloody battle-field, above the dying, the sleeping, the groaning, the sighing, now rose the moon grandly, solemnly, as if to console the dead and to lead the living to raise their grateful prayers to heaven. And grateful praise ascended above that night—thanks for the preservation of their own and their friends’ lives—thanks for their hero’s victory. Side by side, whispering in low tones, lay the soldiers—for the hour seemed to all too solemn to be broken by any loud sound.

No hearts were so full of gratitude and joy as those of Charles Henry Buschman and Fritz Kober. In the pressure of the battle they had been separated and had not again met during the engagement. In vain they had sought and called upon one another, and each one thought of the fearful possibility that the other had fallen. At last they stumbled upon each other. With shouts of joy they rushed into each other’s arms.

"You are not wounded, Fritz Kober?" said Charles Henry, with a beating heart.

"I am unharmed; but you, my friend?"

"Only a little cut in the hand, nothing more. How many prisoners did you take?"

"Seven, Charles Henry."

"You will be promoted! You will be an officer!"

"Not unless you are also. How many prisoners did you take?"

"I am not sure, Fritz; I think there were nine. But the captain will know."

"We will both be promoted, the king promised it, and now I am willing to accept it."

"But what is this to us now, my friend?" said Charles Henry; "we have found one another, and I am indifferent to all else."

"You are right, Charles Henry; this has been a fearful, a terrible day. My knees tremble beneath me—let us rest a while."

He laid himself upon the ground. Charles Henry knelt beside him, laying one hand upon his shoulder, and looked at the starry sky; a holy smile glorified his countenance. As he gazed at the moon, tender feelings were at work in his heart. He thought of his distant home—of the graves of his loved parents, upon which the moon was now shining as brightly as upon this bloody battle-field. He thought how kind and merciful God had been to preserve his friend, his only consolation, the one joy of his weary, lonesome life. The solemn stillness by which he was surrounded, the bright moon, light which illuminated the battle-field, the thought of the hard struggle of the past day, all acted strongly upon his feelings. The brave, daring soldier, Charles Henry Buschman, was once more transformed into the gentle, soft-hearted Anna Sophia Detzloff; now, when danger was past, she felt herself a weak, trembling woman. Deep, inexpressible emotion, earnest prayers to God, were busy in Anna Sophia’s heart.

Kneeling upon the ground, resting on her friend, she raised her eyes heavenward, and commenced singing in an earnest, impassioned tone that glorious hymn, "Thanks unto God!" Fritz Kober, actuated by the same feelings, joined in the hymn, and here and there a comrade lent his voice to swell the anthem; it became stronger, louder, until at last, like a mighty stream, it passed over the battle-field, knocking at every heart, and urging it to prayer, finding everywhere an open ear.

The moon stood smiling above the battle-field, upon which eight thousand dead and wounded men were lying. Even the wounded, who a short time before filled the air with groans of pain and agony, raised themselves to join in the song of praise which was now sung, not by a hundred, not by a thousand, but by thirty thousand soldiers, thirty thousand heroes, who, after that bloody day had earned the right to sing "Thanks unto God."


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter XIV. The Battle of Leuthen.," Frederick the Great and His Family, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in Frederick the Great and His Family (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed March 31, 2023,

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter XIV. The Battle of Leuthen." Frederick the Great and His Family, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in Frederick the Great and His Family, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 31 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter XIV. The Battle of Leuthen.' in Frederick the Great and His Family, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Frederick the Great and His Family, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 31 March 2023, from