Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

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

LETTER XXIII: The Surrender of the Fortresses


THE French troops, having now no more forces in the field to oppose them turned their attention towards the fortresses; and, in about eight days after the capitulation of Prenzlau, they were, without any formal siege, masters of Magdeburg.  There seems to be periods in the life of man in which he is led to act in direct contradiction to the natural bias of his character, else how could General Kleist, the governor of this important fortress, so readily yield up his trust?  His earlier exploits prove that he once had courage; and, with one foot in the grave, what inducement could he have to burden the last moments of his life with any dark deed of treachery?  But, as has been observed, the actions of man are sometimes unaccountable; and, unhappily for Prussia, she has suffered by such a continued chain of unfortunate events, brought on by such absurd conduct, that it would seem as if an avenging Deity had resolved the destruction of this devoted kingdom.

I am aware that acting contrary to the law of subordination is death; yet, when the safety of the state depends upon such a daring step, the man who can save his country ought not to hesitate.—The general indignation expressed against the governor, when he forbade resistance, showed the sense of the whole garrison, and nearly all the officers went immediately in a body to General Wartensleben to request that he would remonstrate with the governor:  he shrugged up his shoulders, and referred them to the ordinances of war.—They then proceeded to General Alvensleben, and besought him to join them in opposing a capitulation.  He felt as they did, and forthwith prevailed upon Wartensleben to accompany him to the governor.  They governor reminded them of martial law, and they were silent.  Soon after, this dastardly governor came on the parade, and, without any preface, said—“I shall capitulate; what have you to say against it?”—There was a dissatisfactory murmur, but, withheld by the old form, no one spoke.—Convinced as every one must have been, of  general support, had only one single resolute officer stood forth, and demanded, in the name of his comrades, the governor’s sword, one of the most infamous blots would have been, at least, averted from the Prussian arms.  The shameful surrender of Magdeburg was soon followed by that of Stettin, Cüstin, and Spandau, with the same scandalous pusillanimity; but their respective commanders were all branded with the infamy they so richly deserved.

The intelligence of these rapid and cowardly conquests Bonapartè himself could scarcely believe, and at length exclaimed, with that smile so peculiar to himself—“In truth, I know not whether to rejoice at, or be ashamed of, such advantages!”  It seemed, indeed, as if all Prussia was at his feet; for the arsenal at Berlin, where he now was, had not been emptied, but was still tolerably well furnished; and, on the proclamation of rewards to any one who would discover national effects, large quantities of powder, ammunition, regimentals, and even plans of the fortresses, with particular maps of the provinces, and their various roads, were denounced with such greedy assiduity as disgusted even the French.  An officer being shown a parcel of timber by one of those informers who had been hitherto fed from the King’s bounty, very justly observed, “that his Prussian Majesty out to keep that to make gibbets for such ungrateful rascals!”

In short, the people of Berlin, as soon as their first fears had subsided, went farther in their complaisance towards their new guest than can be conceived; and, notwithstanding the great inconvenience such a large body of troops must cause amongst them, yet their natural levity found a sufficient recompence in the alluring contemplation of a new face and a new uniform; and, though they were accustomed to put off the Prussian troops with the meanest lodgings and accommodations, they were now, by command, obliged to indulge the new uniform with their newest rooms, and the best of every thing the house afforded.

Bonapartè could not but amuse himself at this singular attention to his troops, and therefore soon thought of turning it to his own advantage.  He accordingly issued orders to levy a Prussian regiment for the French service, under the command of the Prince of Isenburg, who, on the 18th of November, published the following proclamation:—

“Whereas, His Majesty, the Emperor of France and King of Italy, has graciously pleased to appoint me to raise a regiment of four battalions, which is to consist entirely of such individuals as have actually been in the Prussian service, I am hereby authorized to offer the same rank they have before enjoyed to all such officers as, by capitulation, have come conditionally under the martial law of France; yet, from this unpleasant situation, feel themselves desirous of totally quitting their present company, and of devoting their military talents to the service of our inimitable Emperor.  Such an honorable appointment secures, in the highest degree, to those who are ambitious to enjoy it, the care and protection of this intrepid hero, who loves his warriors as if they were his children!  And farther, these Prussian officers will, in every respect, be treated like all the other officers in the service, and have every advantage due to a soldier of France—what soldier is more fortunate than he?—Pay, clothing, and nourishment he has far superior to that of any other army; for the French common soldier lives better than the subaltern officers elsewhere.  His superfluities render his service a matter of pastime.—Then hasten, my bold warriors, to march under the glorious banners of the great Napleon!  partake with him in victory and immortal fame!—The rendezvous is at Leipzic.” 



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