Frederick the Great’s struggles during the Seven Years War
The Seven Years War, 1754-62, shaped the modern world. It was a truly global conflict fought in India, America and Europe, as Britain struggled for dominance in trade, colonisation and culture with its principal rival, Bourbon France. European nations formed alliances dependent on need, sentiment or necessity in their relationships with the great powers. The German states of varying sizes and influence were subject to dominant neighbours, and Prussia despite her relatively large size remained surrounded by substantially more powerful and hostile states including Russia, Sweden, Austria and France. Prussia’s monarch, Frederick, earned his epithet ‘the Great’ as much for his tenacity and ability to avert national defeat as for his skill as a strategist and battlefield tactician. This book, written by one of Frederick’s own officers combines first hand, eyewitness experience with an historical narrative of Prussia’s struggle to assert itself as a major power in Europe. Detail of campaigns, battles and anecdotes of major and minor characters from the perspective of a Prussian military man combine to deliver a rewarding book for modern readers. This edition offers an unparalleled and immediate account of these momentous times as Frederick fought for survival and, by example, laid the foundations for a unified Germany. Includes useful maps.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The Battle of Crefeld and the success of Ferdinand on the Rhine made the English anxious to carry on the war by land, notwithstanding they had hitherto only been willing participators in the war by sea, and the government of this empire as well as the people, wished that the most active measures should be taken to attack the French by sea and by land. The great Pitt was still at the head of affairs in England, and by his powerful mind ruled this proud nation according to his wishes, and from the fertility of his imagination, his powerful eloquence, and the greatness of his genius, he was alike unfettered both in the council, and in the Parliament; his principle was, either to give up a project altogether, or to carry it out by every possible means.
The Parliament voted the sending 18,000 men to Germany, and had this been done sooner, Ferdinand would have been able to make good his position on the banks of the Rhine, and insured the taking of Wesel, which was invested by the allies. The position of this leader was now becoming critical; he had an army of 80,000 men opposed to him, who were led on by an experienced leader; provisions were beginning to be scarce, and a long continued rain and bad weather had rendered the roads almost impassable, and overflowed the banks of the river. In consequence of this the marches were rendered very difficult; the French had also made themselves masters of the Maes, and were endeavouring to cut off the allies from the Rhine; Ferdinand was therefore anxious for a battle, but Contades aware of his advantage, was careful in avoiding one. In the mean time Hanover required immediate assistance, added to this, there was great cause for anxiety for the support of the army, and also for the safety of the English troops, who were to land in the North of Germany, and might easily be cut off.
These considerations forced the German leader to withdraw his troops to the other side of the Rhine. But this was attended with great difficulties, for the river was broad, and with a strong stream, the enemy watchful, and in the neighbourhood with a greatly superior force. The allies had thrown a bridge over the river at Rees, and in this town was a large magazine, a considerable supply of money, and a hospital for the army; General Imhof was posted here with 3000 men, to protect the town as well as the bridge. He was attacked by General Chevert at the head of 10,000 French; everything depended on the keeping possession of this position, the safety or destruction of the allies hung upon the event, and as it was not in the power of Ferdinand to send reinforcements to Imhof, he had to depend entirely on his own bravery and that of his soldiers.
His position was covered by ditches and hedges; the enemy were not aware of the nature of the ground, which Imhof turned to his advantage, and instead of awaiting the attack of the French went forward to meet them; the attack was very spirited, and the more effectual as it was not expected from so small a force. In the space of half an hour the enemy, in spite of their superior numbers, were driven back, and forced to retreat to Wesel having left behind them eleven cannon, a considerable quantity of ammunition and waggons, and lost some hundreds of prisoners. The French fled with such precipitation that many threw away their aims on their retreat, and upwards of 2000 muskets were found on the road to Wesel.
However trifling this engagement might be in so bloody and eventful a war, it here stood in the stead of the greatest victory, for it decided the possession of the stores in Emmerich and Rees as well as that of the bridge of boats without which it would have been impossible for Ferdinand to cross the Rhine; and this great general and his brave soldiers without provisions, without hope or the means of escape, and surrounded by the enemy, must have fallen a prey to them. But now all doubt as to their being able to pass in safety was at an end: the German leader, however, deceived the French general by false marches and positions in order to conceal his intention.
In consequence of the swollen state of the Rhine it was necessary to break up the bridge at Rees, and to place it at Griethausen; the French made a last attempt to destroy it with four vessels of a peculiar construction, which were sent from Wesel; but these were captured by armed boats, and the allies were enabled to pass the Rhine on the 9th and 10th of July in spite of the enemy and the swollen state of the river without the loss of a single man. Shortly after this, Imhof was sent with a body of men to meet the English troops, which had been landed at Emden, and who formed a junction with the allies at Cosveld without any impediment.
The arrival of these troops was a great source of rejoicing to the Germans; they consisted in 10,000 men, and were the first division of the 18,000 voted by the English Parliament. These soldiers were a fine body of men and as well as their horses were remarkable from their splendid accoutrements; one of the grenadier regiments had caps richly embroidered with gold and silver, with the motto: Nec timor, nec pavidus. One cavalry regiment was mounted entirely on roan horses, another on grey, a third on black, and a fourth on bay horses, and all these picked and beautiful animals. Besides these they brought upwards of 1000 baggage waggons with their horses.
Among the British troops who came to Germany were 2000 Highlanders who soon made themselves known to the enemy by their courage and activity. These soldiers now showed in Germany their accustomed bravery in many remarkable acts; among others they surprised a French cavalry regiment near Dillenburg. The troopers were endeavouring to mount, but they were either cut to pieces or taken prisoners; the Highlanders got on their horses, and rode back to the camp with their booty.
Ferdinand now took up an advantageous position on the Lippe by which means he protected Hanover, and gave his troops time for rest. It was now necessary to evacuate Düsseldorf, and the Hanoverian garrison withdrew, after having spiked the cannon, and thrown the powder into the Rhine; Cleves was also evacuated, and the French immediately took possession of both places Isenburg was posted on the Weser, and General Oberg protected the Hessian provinces with 9000 men; Oberg took possession of the strong position near Sandershausen, and did all that he could to induce the French to attack him in his entrenchments; Soubise, who was near him at the head of 30,000 men, would not but, endeavoured to take him in the rear.
The fear of this drove Oberg from his position, and he was attacked on all sides by the superior forces of the enemy on the 10th of October near Lutternberg. The nature of the ground was too extensive for him to defend himself on all points with so small a body of men; the Hessians defended themselves bravely, and drove back the infantry of the enemy, but in the moment of victory the French cavalry fell on them both in flank and rear; the want of cavalry on the side of the Hessians increased this misfortune, and forced Oberg to retreat. The allies lost 1500 men killed, wounded and taken prisoners, and twenty eight cannon.