Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

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

LETTER XIX: The Prussians Retreat Continues


THIS humane arrangement, like most acts of general benevolence, was greatly abused.  There came such swarms of wounded soldiers, fugitives, and vagabonds, to Nordhausen, that it was impossible to satisfy at once the universal clamor for bread.  The uproar increased; the centinels were now no longer respected; the bakers’ shops were forced; and at length the magazines were plundered.  During this tumult, no regular billetings amongst the surrounding villages could be made; of course every one provided for himself as well as he could, and consequently the most intruding got the best quarters, and the most deserving were the most uncomfortable.  This caused such a complete dissatisfaction with the officers, that they lost all authority; and, therefore, every exertion to restore order and obedience was in vain.  In the midst of this confusion and anarchy, intelligence was received that Field Marshal Möllendorff, with eight thousand men, had capitulated at Erfurth; that Soult, with an army of forty thousand, was in pursuit of the main body, and that he had, the day before, (the 16th) actually passed Kreussen; that Tauenzien and Blücher had by stratagem escaped with their troops; that Bernadotte was advancing against the reserve army at Halle; and that Murat was pursuing General Kalkreuth with his cavalry to Nordhausen.  All these circumstances, together with the consideration that the chief part of the French army was marching on the straight line of their curve, and might cut them off from the fortress of Magdeburg, obliged Prince Hohenlohe to hasten thither.  He therefore immediately gave the necessary orders; and sent off a courier to General Kleist, the Governor, to request, “that, in consequence of the King’s previous verbal orders, he would prepare for their reception and nourishment, and stop the passage over the Elbe, that the deserters might be again collected, and that he might re-organise the whole, and give them some days’ repose under the cannon of his fortress.”  Soon after this the Prince departed, and that night (the 17th) reached Stollberg.  The next morning, early, they proceeded to Quidlinburg; but, as the outposts soon reported that the enemy were advancing thither, the Prince quitted the place at four o’clock, and marched to Langenweddingen; from whence several officers of the staff were sent before to Magdeburg, to hasten every thing necessary for the reception of the Prince’s army.

Before he quitted this place, he received an order from the King, to take the command of all the troops, as well those under Kalkreuth as under the Prince of Wirtemberg at Halle; in consequence of which, Prince Hohenlohe gave the requisite orders.  Kalkreuth’s division had been much reduced, and the reserve army at Halle had met a similar fate; for Bernadotte had already, on the 17th, reached the place and totally defeated the Prince of Wirtemberg.  The greater part of his troops, however, had escaped to Magdeburg, where, on the 20th, Prince Hohenlohe arrived with his collected troops, who now all expected comfortable quarters, furnished magazines, and good nourishment, that they might again be able to face the enemy with renewed vigor and courage.  But General Kleist affirmed that the King had commanded him to provide each straggling soldier with bread; by which his stock was so reduced, that he had not wherewithal for his own garrison, which the Prince was now to make up to twelve thousand men.

The army were thus disappointed, and of course dissatisfied.  Besides, Generals Kalkreuth and Blücher had already ordered their corps to pass the Elbe at Tangermunde and other places; the reserve army was, as has been observed, much diminished, and the bridge over the Elbe open for every deserter to pass that could.  These circumstances left the Prince in an unpleasant situation, as the enemy were constantly at this heels; and had even the night (the 20th) taken one of his detached outposts.  As soon, therefore, as he could throw a sufficient reinforcement into the garrison, and issue his farther orders, he, on the 21st, hastened away with the infantry, hoping somewhere to find a safe rendezvous, to muster and put his troops under some proper discipline and regular state of defence.  The infantry were, therefore, ordered to halt, on the 20th, at Zehdenick; and the cavalry, on the 27th at Haselfonde.

On their arrival at Zehdenick, the Prince addressed himself to each battalion, and endeavoured to re-animate their self-confidence and courage; and, as he openly avowed the danger they were all in, he trusted this would be the stronger reason to convince them of the great necessity of maintaining good order and discipline; and farther exhorted them to exert their utmost endeavours for the yet few remaining days of their fatigue, that they might the more cheerfully and sooner end them.  He had scarcely finished this address, when he received intelligence that a superior force of the enemy had that evening attacked a large division under General Schimmelpfenning, and, after a complete defeat, had driven them to Prenzlo.  Two couriers, likewise, from Berlin, reported that they had been stopped near Oranienbaum by a detached party of the enemy’s cavalry, but the latter meeting with some Prussian hussars, the couriers, whilst they were skirmishing, escaped, and continued their journey.  Two reconnoitering parties, also, which he had sent out towards Spandau and Berlin, returned with the information, that a large body of the enemy’s cavalry had passed Oranienbaum in quest of his army, and that Lannes and Davoust were following by forced marches.

As all the Prince’s cavalry were then, unfortunately, about twenty miles distant from where he then was, he would not, by a forced march, still more tire their jaded horses.  Moving, therefore, towards them, he ordered that they, and all the other troops in the neighbourhood, should meet at night at Füstenburg.  This is a very small and insignificant place, which could furnish neither provision nor quarters, so that all the soldiers were obliged to remain in the streets and fields, comforting themselves with the hope that they should soon witness better times.

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