Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

A Cursory View of Prussia from the Death of Frederick II to the Peace of Tilsit

LETTER XVIII: The Prussians Retreat


THE Prince, after having sustained another unhappy encounter in his retreat to Weimar, this, and received at the same moment by a courier the melancholy intelligence of the main army being totally routed, resolved to proceed to Wippach, which place he reached in the night, with the few cavalry he had collected.  He then observed many large fires in the neighbourhood, which again alarmed his apprehensions; but on nearer examination they were found to belong to the King’s baggage; which was a very unpleasant discovery, as he was afraid that the enemy might be apprized of this rich booty, and again soon disturb his retreat.  The idea therefore of resting here till daybreak, must be given up; and as the stabling and every covered place in the whole Village was already filled, and the Prince not choosing to use force, it was resolved to give the horses a hasty feed in the open field, and then proceed to Sömmerda.  But before even this could be effected, the outposts reported the enemy’s cavalry to be on their march towards them, and that Sömmerda had been plundered.  As the baggage wagons seemed to have taken the road to Weissensee; the Prince, to avoid them, and not to disturb their passage, ordered immediately to mount and to proceed without noise to Tensted, a small Saxon bailiwick.  Yet even this road was so crowded with the King’s baggage, that the Prince was obliged to quit it, and take a bye one.  But, as from the darkness of the night, the guide could not find his way from village to village, the march became so embarrassing and dirty, and the horses so fatigued, that at every turning they were obliged to call out to each other; and, notwithstanding this precaution, they found, to their astonishments and sorrow, at break of day, that their whole remaining force consisted of only a few hussars, and about fifty dragoons.  Though Tensted is only about eight miles from Wippach, yet they had been above nine hours on the road, and arrived only at about seven o’clock.  Here fortunately, they found forage, provision, and brandy; but scarcely had they rested an hour, before the outposts reported that cavalry were approaching, which they supposed to be Prussians.  It was found to be so, but with the enemy in quick pursuit.  The Prince was in haste to get off, and before he could be mounted the skirmishing was already heard.  With so small an escort no time was to be lost, therefore, with a sure guide, they hastened off for Erich, and here, in the neighbourhood, they again heard skirmishing, which induced the Prince to proceed, with all the speed the poor animals were capable of, to Sonderhausen.  Here also every street and every corner was filled with wagons; and though there were several fugitives from the main army, yet none could give any information whatever of the King.  Some were of the opinion that his Majesty had been at Frankenhausen with a large division of the army; but that the enemy had dislodged him from thence.  The Prince forthwith sent off couriers to procure information, and made every arrangement to get off the wagons that they should not impede the passage of the retreating troops.—Towards evening, a multitude of stragglers dropped in, who affirmed that the King would be there to-morrow.

The next day, early, the King did arrive, and conferred the command of the whole remains of the army, excepting the two divisions under Kalkreuth, upon the Prince; and, as his Majesty was determined to prosecute the war, let the consequence be what it would, rather than submit to dishonorable conditions, he ordered that the whole should repair to Magdeburg; that the reserve army of East Prussians, under Prince Eugene of Wurtemberg, now on it’s march to Halle, should be placed also under the command of Prince Hohenlohe, who was likewise directed to throw in a sufficient reinforcement to the garrison of Magdeburg, and himself to endeavour to secure the capital from any attack of the enemy:  Should not this be practicable, Prince Hohenlohe, was then to pass the Oder, and let the East Prussian army join him for other services.  His Majesty proposed immediately hastening to them; and, accordingly, after a repose of about two hours, set off by the way of Magdeburg and Cüstrin, to give their respective Governors the necessary further instructions.  Yet, before the King left Sonderhausen, there arrived such numbers of fugitives from so many different regiments, and particularly from Kalkreuth’s division, which was supposed to have entirely escaped, but which, during the confusion of the night of the 14th, had been so slaughtered and dispersed that only a few battalions remained; that it was now found expedient to order the whole to Nordhausen, to be re-organized; where they were promised every necessary care and nourishment.  The whole troop, of course, directly proceeded thither; and the Prince soon followed with this suite, who had now nearly all made their appearance.


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