A Cursory View of Prussia from the Death of Frederick II to the Peace of Tilsit
LETTER XX: Negotiations with Marshal Lannes
THIS dreary place they left by day-light on the 27th; and, as forage, bread and provisions were ordered at Prenzlo, they supposed they were to march thither: and though it was thirty miles distant, yet the prospect of comfortable nourishment and repose kept up their spirits an vigor. About two miles before they had reached Boitzenburg, they were met by Count Arnim, who resided there, and who politely informed the Prince that forage, brandy, and proper refreshment were ready, waiting their arrival there. Every face now beamed with pleasure at this comfortable intelligence; but, doomed to disappointment, their joy was only of short duration. They had not marched much farther, before they perceived troops and wagons on the heights of Boitzenburg. About twenty hussars in waiting were immediately sent to examine into this singular appearance. Ere long, several peasants came on full gallop towards the Prince, and informed him, that the French were in Boitzenburg—had fired their pistols into the count’s palace—had taken away all this horses—staved the brandy casks, and destroyed all the victuals and kettles, &c. &c.
Soon after, other intelligence arrived, that the enemy’s cavalry were seen filing off through the woods towards the Prince’s left wing; that Murat was very near, and a large reinforcement of infantry from Berlin was hastening, by forced marches, to join him; and farther, that the French were already in possession of the capital, and Bonapartè himself expected there on the 27th.
The Prince was now obliged to push forward to Prenzlau, by clearing his road through Boitzenburg. The first discharge soon sent off the plunderers; and, in skirmishing, a few prisoners were made, who assured the prince that Murat was very near, and that he supposed their march to Prenzlau was already cut off.
Upon this intelligence it was resolved to take another route to Prenzlau, and, with proper guides, they marched off over Schönermark, where they arrived at four o’clock in the morning; and, as the cavalry was now soon expected to join them, they waited with tolerable tranquility the issue of the following day. But, as camp fires were supposed to be perceived about Prenzlau, two detachments were sent off to reconnoiter. In the mean time, the Prince, with his generals, held a council of war to determine the best mode of proceeding.
One of the detachments soon returned with the joyful intelligence that there was no enemy in or near Prenzlau, that every comfort awaited them there. The march was therefore immediately continued, and fortunately the troops arrived safe in Prenzlau.
Orders were now given that the troops should march through the town, and receive their provisions on the other side. Two battalions had scarcely passed before some detachments of the enemy’s cavalry were observed to approach; and the sound of fire arms was heard. Soon after, a flag of truce was sent in, and, unfortunately, some of the Polish stragglers, who did not know better, and understood no language but their own, had fired upon it and wounded the trumpeter. This naturally occasioned an unpleasant altercation. At length, however, the French officer was appeased, and informed the Prince that he was sent by Marshal Lannes to acquaint him, “that a powerful French army was very near him, and that Murat had possession of every pass: therefore, to spare an unnecessary effusion of blood, a capitulation was proposed, with the assurance that the most honorable terms would be granted.” To this the Prince replied, “that, though he was well acquainted with the French mode of vaunting, yet he was not unwilling to send an officer to the Marshal to show him that he was not averse to enter into such a parley as the circumstances might justify; but by no means, as Marshal Lannes seemed to insinuate, could he think of surrendering himself or his troops prisoners.”
The French officer had then his sabre and his watch returned him, and Colonel Massenbach accompanied him back to Marshal Lannes. During this negotiation, the Prince flattered himself that the rest of his cavalry might possibly arrive; or, at least, that he should be informed of the real strength of the enemy around him. But negotiation, it seems, must never stop the military motions of the French; for, scarcely was the flag of truce out of sight, when their batteries began to play upon the town, just as our troops were passing, which we returned from our flying artillery, so warmly, that a brisk cannonade ensued. Unfortunately as a troop of dragoons were entering the suburbs, a grenade fell amongst them, which set them off at such a full gallop that they rode over whatever came in their way; this obliged the infantry to retreat into the nearest house for their own safety.
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