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

LETTER XXII: The Surrender of the Prussian Army

                                                                                                                                                                  Berlin.

THE Prince now drew his Generals, Staff and other Officers, also the French General Belliard, into a small circle.  A melancholy silence reigned for some time; at length, after this solemn pause, the Prince thus in anguish addressed them:

“Gentlemen, it has ever been my fixed principle that a Commander ought never to capitulate.  I am also convinced that every Prussian Officer is deeply impressed with the same sentiment.  General Murat, and several of his most distinguished Officers, have assured me of their admiration of our perseverance and struggle through the many hardships we have had to encounter.  Now, after this last effort, I deem it my duty, Gentlemen, honestly to acquaint you with the whole of our present situation, and then to request your general advice how to act with the most propriety.  Our troops, from their so long continued fatigues, and night marches, are quite exhausted.  Our cavalry and artillery horses, totally harassed, and the provisions useless—our magazines, and the provisions prepared for us here in Prenzlau, are all in the hands of the enemy, and no possibility remains of obtaining any thing on this side of Stettin.  Our troops throughout are in want of ammunition.  One battery is already taken, and we have only five charges more for each of the remaining guns.  General Murat has given me his word of honor, that both our wings are already surrounded; that he is provided with sufficient artillery; and that Marshal Lannes, whom Colonel Massenbach has so lately spoken with, is on the point of attacking us with several columns.  In short, Gentlemen, our situation is such, that if any of you know the means of saving us, let him step forth and speak.”

Every one, deeply affected, remained silent, and, as no one spoke, the Prince continued—“This day, gentlemen, I finish my military career.  I shall faithfully report to his Majesty every particular circumstance that has occurred, and beg that a court martial may be forthwith held, to examine, in the strictest manner, into my conduct.  I can answer to God and my own conscience for the step I am now going to take; and, I trust it will be acknowledged from my former life, that I do not require the sacrifice of so many thousand lives as are here intrusted to me, to add on single iota to my untarnished fame.”

He then repeated General Murat’s proposals of capitulation, as above related, which General Belliard confirmed; and then immediately galloped off, to acquaint Marshal Murat with the desired result.

The Prussian troops were by no means satisfied with the capitulation, and various plans were laid by the officers to elude it; but as these were only the effect of an hasty ebullition, they were soon found impracticable, and then were abandoned of course.  At length the arms were surrendered with evident marks of regret, and the prisoners of war sent off to the places of their destination.

As the Emperor was very soon expected, the Prince proposed to wait his arrival; but he was for his own safety, advised to hasten away, before the more dissolute part of the army should arrive.  He therefore left Prenzlau on the 30th, accompanied by a crowd of his officers.

This in one single fortnight we see an army of above one hundred thousand men, almost totally annihilated.  Such rapid destruction, considering Bonapartè’s known principles, might naturally be attributed to treachery; but whatever may have been the cause of the surrender of the fortresses, almost without an attack, I do not believe any other influence was used in the field, than that which superior abilities have over weaker minds.  From the beginning of Prince Louis’ frantic attack, to the capitulation of Prenzlau, we see the Prussians in one continued series of error, both in positions and movements; and as want of proper subordination seems to have been a leading fault in the inferior ranks, it would have been true patriotism for the General Prince Hohenlohe to have risqued it himself, in this last instance, and, instead of following the King’s orders to march by Magdeburg, to have taken the shorter and direct road to Stettin, by Dessau; by which, he would have probably have saved both his little remnant of men and the important fortress of Stettin.—But, after all, independent of Bonapartè’s superior generalship, we see that his superior force also, which was nearly double that of his opponents, would, if not so rapidly, at least ultimately, have secured him the conquests he aspired to.  I therefore now, without farther remarks, proceed with my narrative.

 

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