History of Friedrich II of Prussia— Volume 20

Author: Thomas Carlyle

Chapter VIII. Loudon Pounces Upon Schweidnitz One Night (Last of September, 1761).

It was September 25th, more properly 26th, [Tempelhof, v. 327.] when Friedrich quitted Bunzelwitz; we heard on what errand. Early that morning he marches with all his goods, first to Pilzen (that fine post on the east side of Schweidnitz); and from that, straightway,—southwestward, two marches farther,—to Neisse neighborhood (Gross-Nossen the name of the place); Loudon making little dispute or none. In Neisse are abundant Magazines: living upon these, Friedrich intends to alarm Loudon’s rearward country, and draw him towards Bohemia. As must have gradually followed; and would at once,—had Loudon been given to alarms, which he was not. Loudon, very privately, has quite different game afield. Loudon merely detaches this and the other small Corps to look after Friedrich’s operations, which probably he believes to be only a feint:—and, before a week passes, Friedrich will have news he little expects!

Friedrich, pausing at Gross-Nossen, and perhaps a little surprised to find no Loudon meddling with him, pushes out, first one party and then another,—Dalwig, Bulow, towards Landshut Hill-Country, to threaten Loudon’s Bohemian roads;—who, singular to say, do not hear the least word of Loudon thereabouts. A Loudon strangely indifferent to this new Enterprise of ours. On the third day of Gross-Nossen (Friday, October 2d), Friedrich detaches General Lentulus to rearward, or the way we came, for news of Loudon. Rearward too, Lentulus sees nothing whatever of Loudon: but, from the rumor of the country, and from two Prussian garrison-soldiers, whom he found wandering about,—he hears, with horror and amazement, That Loudon, by a sudden panther-spring, the night before last, has got hold of Schweidnitz: now his wholly, since 5 A.M. of yesterday; and a strong Austrian garrison in it by this time! That was the news Lentulus brought home to his King; the sorest Job’s-post of all this War.

Truly, a surprising enterprise this of Loudon’s; and is allowed by everybody to have been admirably managed. Loudon has had it in his head for some time;—ever since that colic of forty-eight hours, I should guess; upon the wrecks of which it might well rise as a new daystar. He kept it strictly in his own head; nobody but Daun and the Kaiser had hint of it, both of whom assented, and agreed to keep silence.

"On Friedrich’s removal towards Neisse and threatening of Bohemia," says my Note on this subject, "Loudon’s time had come. Friedrich had disappeared to southwestward, Saturday, September 26th: ’Gone to Pilzen,’ reported Loudon’s scouts; ’rests there over Sunday. Gone to Sigeroth, 28th; gone to Gross-Nossen, Tuesday, September 29th.’ [Tempelhof, v. 330.] That will do, thinks Loudon; who has sat immovable at Kunzendorf all this while;—and, WEDNESDAY, 30th, instantly proceeds to business.

"Draws out, about 10 A.M. of Wednesday, all round Schweidnitz at some miles distance, a ring, or complete girdle, of Croat-Cossack people; blocking up every path and road: ’Nobody to pass, this day, towards Schweidnitz, much less into it, on any pretext.’ That is the duty of the Croat people. To another active Officer he intrusts the task of collecting from the neighboring Villages (outside the Croat girdle) as many ladders, planks and the like, as will be requisite; which also is punctually done. For the Attack itself, which is to be Fourfold, our picked Officers are chosen, with the 20 best Battalions in the Army: Czernichef is apprised; who warmly assents, and offers every help:—’800 of your Grenadiers,’ answers Loudon; ’no more needed.’ Loudon’s arrangements for management of the ladders, for punctuality about the routes, the times, the simultaneity, are those of a perfect artist; no Friedrich could have done better.

"About 4 in the afternoon, all the Captains and Battalions, with their ladders and furnitures, everybody with Instruction very pointed and complete, are assembled at Kunzendorf: Loudon addresses the Troops in a few fiery words; assures himself of victory by them; promises them 10,060 pounds in lieu of plunder, which he strictly prohibits. Officers had better make themselves acquainted with the Four Routes they are to take in the dark: proper also to set all your watches by the chief General’s, that there be no mistake as to time. [In TEMPELHOF (v. 332-349) and ARCHENHOLTZ (ii. 272-280) all these details.] At 9, all being now dark, and the Croat girdle having gathered itself closer round the place since nightfall, the Four Divisions march to their respective startingplaces; will wait there, silent; and about 2 in the morning, each at its appointed minute, step forward on their business. With fixed bayonets all of them; no musketry permitted till the works are won. Loudon will wait at the Village of Schonbrunn [not WARKOTSCH’S Schonbrunn, of which by and by, and which also is not far [See ARCHENHOLTZ, ii. 287; and correct his mistake of the two places.]] —at Schonbrunn, within short distance; give Loudon notice when you are within 600 yards;—there shall, if desirable, be reinforcements, farther orders. Loudon knows Schweidnitz like his own bedroom. He was personally there, in Leuthen time, improving the Works. By nocturnal Croat parties, in the latter part of Bunzelwitz time; and since then, by deserters and otherwise,—he knows the condition of the Garrison, of the Commandant, and of every essential point. Has calculated that the Garrison is hardly third part of what it ought to be,—3,800 in whole, and many of them loose deserter fellows; special artillery-men, instead of about 400, only 191;—most important of all, that Commandant Zastrow is no wizard in his trade; and, on the whole, that the Enterprise is likely to succeed.

"Zastrow has been getting married lately; and has many things to think of, besides Schweidnitz. Some accounts say this was his wedding-night,—which is not true, but only that he had meant to give a Ball this last night of September; and perhaps did give it, dancing over BEFORE 2, let us hope! Something of a jolter-head seemingly, though solid and honest. I observe he is a kind of butt, or laughing-stock, of Friedrich’s, and has yielded some gleams of momentary fun, he and this marriage of his, between Prince Henri and the King, in the tragic gloom all round. [Schoning, ii. SOEPIUS.] Nothing so surprises me in Friedrich as his habitual inattention to the state of his Garrisons. He has the best of Commandants and also the worst: Tauentzien in Breslau, Heyde in Colberg, unsurpassable in the world; in Glatz a D’O, in Schweidnitz a Zastrow, both of whom cost him dear. Opposition sneers secretly, ’It is as they happen to have come to hand.’ Which has not much truth, though some. Tauentzien he chose; D’O was Fouquet’s choice, not his; Zastrow he did choose; Heyde he had by accident; of Heyde he had never heard till the defence of Colberg began to be a world’s wonder. And in regard to his Garrisons, it is indisputable they were often left palpably defective in quantity and quality; and, more than once, fatally gave way at the wrong moment. We can only say that Friedrich was bitterly in want of men for the field; that ’a Garrison-Regiment’ was always reckoned an inferior article; and that Friedrich, in the press of his straits, had often had to say: ’Well, these [plainly Helots, not Spartans], these will have to do!’ For which he severely suffered: and perhaps repented,— who knows?

"Zastrow, in spite of Loudon’s precautionary Girdle of Croats, and the cares of a coming Ball, had got sufficient inkling of something being in the wind. And was much on the Walls all day, he and his Officers; scanning with their glasses and their guesses the surrounding phenomena, to little purpose. At night he sent out patrols; kept sputtering with musketry and an occasional cannon into the vacant darkness (’We are alert, you see, Herr Loudon!’). In a word, took what measures he could, poor man;—very stupid measures, thinks Tempelhof, and almost worse than none, especially this of sputtering with musketry;—and hoped always there would be no Attack, or none to speak of. Till, in fine, between 2 and 3 in the morning, his patrols gallop in, ’Austrians on march!’ and Zastrow, throwing out a rocket or two, descries in momentary illumination that the Fact is verily here.

"His defence (four of the Five several Forts attacked at once) was of a confused character; but better than could have been expected. Loudon’s Columns came on with extraordinary vigor and condensed impetuosity; stormed the Outworks everywhere, and almost at once got into the shelter of the Covered-way: but on the Main Wall, or in the scaling part of their business, were repulsed, in some places twice or thrice; and had a murderous struggle, of very chaotic nature, in the dark element. No picture of it in the least possible or needful here. In one place, a Powder-Magazine blew up with about 400 of them,—blown (said rumor, with no certainty) by an indignant Prussian artillery-man to whom they had refused quarter: in another place, the 800 Russian Grenadiers came unexpectedly upon a chasm or bridgeless interstice between two ramparts; and had to halt suddenly,—till (says rumor again, with still less certainty) their Officers insisting with the rearward part, ’Forward, forward!’ enough of front men were tumbled in to make a roadway! This was the story current; [Archenholtz, ii. 275.] greatly exaggerated, I have no doubt. What we know is, That these Russians did scramble through, punctually perform their part of the work;—and furthermore, that, having got upon the Town-Wall, which was finis to everything, they punctually sat down there; and, reflectively leaning on their muskets, witnessed with the gravity and dignity of antique sages, superior to money or money’s worth, the general plunder which went on in spite of Loudon’s orders.

"For, in fine, between 5 and 6, that is in about three hours and a half, Loudon was everywhere victorious; Zastrow, Schweidnitz Fortress, and all that it held, were Loudon’s at discretion; Loudon’s one care now was to stop the pillage of the poor Townsfolk, as the most pressing thing. Which was not done without difficulty, nor completely till after hours of exertion by cavalry regiments sent in. The captors had fought valiantly; but it was whispered there had been a preliminary of brandy in them; certainly, except those poor Russians, nobody’s behavior was unexceptionable."

The capture of Schweidnitz cost Loudon about 1,400 men; he found in Schweidnitz, besides the Garrison all prisoners or killed, some 240 pieces of artillery,—"211 heavy guns, 135 hand-mortars," say the Austrian Accounts, "with stores and munitions" in such quantities; "89,760 musket-cartridges, 1,300,000 flints," [In <italic> Helden- Geschichte, <end italic> (vi. 651-665) the Austrian Account, with LISTS &c.] for two items:—and all this was a trifle compared to the shock it has brought on Friedrich’s Silesian affairs. For, in present circumstances, it amounts to the actual conquest of a large portion of Silesia; and, for the first time, to a real prospect of finishing the remainder next Year. It is judged to have been the hardest stroke Friedrich had in the course of this War. "Our strenuous Campaign on a sudden rendered wind, and of no worth! The Enemy to winter in Silesia, after all; Silesia to go inevitably,—and life along with it!" What Friedrich’s black meditations were, "In the following weeks [not close following, but poor Kuster does not date], the King fell ill of gout, saw almost nobody, never came out; and, it was whispered, the inflexible heart of him was at last breaking; that is to say, the very axis of this Prussian world giving way. And for certain, there never was in his camp and over his dominions such a gloom as in this October, 1761; till at length he appeared on horseback again, with a cheerful face; and everybody thought to himself, ’Ha, the world will still roll, then!’" [Kuster, <italic> Lebens-Rettungen Friedrichs des Zweyten <end italic> (Berlin, 1797), p. 59 &c. It is the same innocent reliable Kuster whom we cited, in SALDERN’S case, already.]

This is what Loudon had done, without any Russians, except Russians to give him eight-and-forty hours colic, and put him on his own shifts. And the way in which the Kriegshofrath, and her Imperial Majesty the Kaiserinn, received it, is perhaps still worth a word. The Kaiser, who had alone known of Loudon’s scheme, and for good reason (absolute secrecy being the very soul of it) had whispered nothing of it farther to any mortal, was naturally overjoyed. But the Olympian brow of Maria Theresa, when the Kaiser went radiant to her with this news, did not radiate in response; but gloomed indignantly: "No order from Kriegshofrath, or me!" Indignant Kriegshofrath called it a CROATEN-STREICH (Croat’s-trick); and Loudon, like Prince Eugen long since, was with difficulty excused this act of disobedience. Great is Authority;— and ought to be divinely rigorous, if (as by no means always happens) it is otherwise of divine quality!

Friedrich’s treatment of Zastrow was in strong contrast of style. Here is his Letter to that unlucky Gentleman, who is himself clear that he deserves no blame: "My dear Major-General von Zastrow,— The misfortune that has befallen me is very grievous; but what consoles me in it is, to see by your Letter that you have behaved like a brave Officer, and that neither you nor the Garrison have brought disgrace or reproach on yourselves. I am your wellaffectioned King,—FRIEDRICH." And in Autograph this Postscript: "You may, in this occurrence, say what Francis I., after the Battle of Pavia, wrote to his Mother: ’All is lost except honor.’ As I do not yet completely understand the affair, I forbear to judge of it; for it is altogether extraordinary.—F." [<italic> Militair-Lexikon, <end italic> iv. 305, 306 (Letter undated there; date probably, "Gross-Nossen, October 3d").]

And never meddled farther with Zastrow; only left him well alone for the future. "Grant me a Court-Martial, then!" said Zastrow, finding himself fallen so neglected, after the Peace. "No use," answered Friedrich: "I impute nothing of crime to you; but after such a mishap, it would be dangerous to trust you with any post or command;"—and in 1766, granted him, on demand, his demission instead. The poor man then retired to Cassel, where he lived twenty years longer, and was no more heard of. He was half-brother of the General Zastrow who got killed by a Pandour of long range (bullet through both temples, from brushwood, across the Elbe), in the first year of this War.


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Chicago: Thomas Carlyle, "Chapter VIII. Loudon Pounces Upon Schweidnitz One Night (Last of September, 1761).," History of Friedrich II of Prussia— Volume 20 in History of Friedrich II of Prussia—Volume 20 Original Sources, accessed August 21, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QCMF98K5EVX2APD.

MLA: Carlyle, Thomas. "Chapter VIII. Loudon Pounces Upon Schweidnitz One Night (Last of September, 1761)." History of Friedrich II of Prussia— Volume 20, in History of Friedrich II of Prussia—Volume 20, Original Sources. 21 Aug. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QCMF98K5EVX2APD.

Harvard: Carlyle, T, 'Chapter VIII. Loudon Pounces Upon Schweidnitz One Night (Last of September, 1761).' in History of Friedrich II of Prussia— Volume 20. cited in , History of Friedrich II of Prussia—Volume 20. Original Sources, retrieved 21 August 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QCMF98K5EVX2APD.